MANILA, Philippines – For some inmates of the Quezon City Jail Male Dormitory, getting an education is their first step to freedom. A high school diploma – courtesy of the government's Alternative Learning System (ALS) program – can hopefully be their ticket out of the life that brought them behind bars.
On Monday, July 6, a total of 23 inmates graduated from high school and one graduated from grade school.
“Joining the ALS program may help lower an inmate's sentence. It will be a way to rehabilitate them as well as help decongest the jail,” said Quezon City jail warden Superintendent Randel Latoza.
The QC Jail has an estimated 3,000 inmates. They face charges that range from petty crimes to involvement in illegal drug trade to murder.
The Quezon City government recently adopted the ALS program of the Department of Education to rehabilitate recurring offenders and prevent them from coming back to jail.
Julius Ceniza, 35, is the only inmate graduating from the elementary level. “Hanggang Grade III lang po kasi ako eh, at hindi ko pa talaga natapos 'yun. Gusto ko po sana tapusin 'yung elementary para makatulong sa pamilya,” Ceniza said. (I only reached Grade III, and didn't even finish it. I wanted to finish elementary school so I could help my family.)
Ceniza became an inmate after he and his wife were supposedly caught in a buy-bust operation 3 years ago. “Nadawit lang po kami, kumakain lang kami sa Jollibee tapos sabi nila nagkakabentahan na ng droga,” he said. (We were just dragged into the case. We were eating at Jollibee, then they accused us of selling drugs.)
His wife died in 2014 due to heart complications inside the Quezon City Jail Female Dormitory in Camp Karingal.
“Gusto ko po talaga makatapos para makasuporta sa pamilya ko, kahit mahirap mag-aral dito sa loob dahil sa dami naming nakapiit, mahirap po talaga mag-focus. Kailangan umeffort mag-isa kasi minsan hirap din ang instructor makapasok dahil marami silang ginagawa kaya tinutulungan kami ng mga teacher na nakakulong,” he said.
(I really wanted to finish my studies so I can support my family, even if it's difficult to study here because we're overcrowded here, it's difficult to focus. You have to exert extra effort, to study by yourself, since the instructors can't always come, they're busy. The inmate teacher helps us instead.)
Former inmate Victorio Principe, 20, is the topnotcher among high school graduates this year. He gained an average of 99% in the ALS equivalency exam, landing the 4th highest in all Quezon City passers.
“Nakalaya ako noong June lang, bumalik lang ako para sa graduation namin,” Principe said. (I was released only last June. I just came back for our graduation.)
He said that he saw the ALS program as an opportunity to finish high school. “Hanggang Grade VI lang po kasi natapos ko at kailangan na huminto kasi kinailangan magtrabaho sa construction dahil wala na kaming kakainin.” (I only finished Grade VI. I had to stop schooling because I needed to work in construction so I could put food on the table.)
“Napasok po ako dito sa loob dahil sa droga noong November 2013, runner lang po, kaso nahuli. Gusto ko po matapos ito [ALS] para makatulong maiahon sa hirap ang pamilya ko,” he said. (I got jailed because of drugs in November 2013. I was runner, but I got caught. I want to finish the ALS program so I can help lift my family from poverty.)