Wednesday, August 06, 2008
At the Recto Terminal of the Light Rail Transit-2, one can see the Manila City Jail (MCJ) right across the platform. There, amid the mushrooming makeshift shanties along squatted properties, octopus connections of illegally wired electricity cables and motley of printing-based businesses from document forgery to tattooing to second-hand books, the Manila City Jail rises with all its ravaged glory. Parametered by Oroquieta Street, Recto Avenue and Quezon Boulevard, the Manila City Jail is the Old Bilibid Prison constructed by the Spanish government during the 1800’s. It was the Philippines’ national penitentiary until the prewar when the Muntinlupa-based New Bilibid Prison opened its penal doors. Then, the Japanese Occupation of the Open City made the Old Bilibid the house of prisoners of war. When most prisoners were transferred to the New Bilibid, the Old Bilibid complex was entrusted to the city of Manila which turned the Old Bilibid into the Manila City Jail. Its current warden is Jail Supt. Renato Gacutan.
From the LRT-2 vantage point, one may see the rusty gates of the MCJ. The walls encircling the MCJ probably reach 25-30 feet high. Apart from the visible mosque inside, there is the main office in the middle and nine other towers surrounding the MCJ. Guards are loitering outside the middle watchtower, which makes them somewhat visible, while many others are staying within the office. There is a guard walking around the perimeter wall. According to the guard based in LRT-2 Recto Station, prisoners go out every time they get their food and gleaning from the prisoners allowed to talk with one another and wander outside, it must be mealtime. There are also makeshift houses inside the jail called barracks which the prisoners built so their visitors can stay when they visit.
Originally erected to house 1,000 prisoners, the MCJ presently crams about 5,300 inmates on a 1.2-hectare facility, making the quintuple overcapacity rate among the worst over-congestions in the country’s notoriously-conditioned jail facilities. What is worse apart from the building’s decrepitude, the facilities are needing major repairs, the staff are lacking and the huge multitude of prisoners endure standing the whole day because the physics-defying absence of space does not allow inmates to sit or slump on the floor. The 5,300 prisoners of the MCJ are legally classified as detention prisoners, city prisoners and youth offenders. These prisoners, whether undergoing trial or convicted, are mixed heterogeneously in the MCJ. The MCJ has four major compounds containing four groups separated by ethnicity and gender. The males and the females are housed separately, but the juvenile delinquents share houses with the adult prisoners, and so do the mentally ill with the mentally sound as well as the physically sick with the physically healthy, as opposed to the United Nations Standard for Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. All the compounds are segregated from one another by fences and walls and have a main hall and a main dormitory with bare facilities. The women’s dorm may be found on the gate’s left side next to the Medical Infirmary while the men’s are behind the Paralegal Office just beyond the Administration Office, Rehabilitation Office and Operations. Each dormitory is cramped and poorly-lit and –ventilated, which makes it scorching hot for most of the times and malodorous despite scrubbing of strong disinfectants. Hence, inmates are susceptible to tuberculosis and skin diseases like boils, infections and different allergies. While rich inmates have condominiums or spaces separating them from other inmates by wooden walls and less rich ones have apartments which they share with one to three others, poor ones ordinarily sleep on floors with no beddings at all except rice or flour sacks or newspapers and, rarely, pillows and blankets. It is harrowing that inmates go on shifting whenever they sleep on the uncovered floors. Also, these inmates subsist on a 35-peso budget allowance on three-meal food and sanitation apart from the allocation for drinking water, which is scarce due to malfunctioning pipelines. Prison food is usually composed of rice and cheap viands like canned sardines but when donations come during, say, Christmas time, there are canned meat and vegetable stew. The usual food supply, owing to limitations in both number and nutritional value, is rice mixed with sardines prepared from a cauldron. These inmates are scantly removed from the noisy city life with the MCJ’s placement near two shopping malls (Isetann and Odeon) and stores, railway stations, major thoroughfares and a university (Far Eastern University), making it seem oblivious to the idea of tucking criminals away from the hustle and bustle of the society in order to rehabilitate and reform them. However, as this study will testify, this placement of the MCJ in the web of social landmarks is strategic rather than erratic.
The Manila City Jail is a fine example of Michel Foucault’s study of the modern penal system in Discipline and Punish. It may be analyzed to prove that in the milieu of the City of Manila, the Foucauldian concept of punishment exists. True, the key punishments of public execution and corporal punishment as well as the ceremonial torture directed at the criminal’s body during investigations have been reduced to symbols but the MCJ, like any other penal colony, may be considered public spectacles meant to reaffirm the power of the police authority. As such, the reform for punishment from the bodily torture to the publicly displayed theater of a jail is less for the prisoner’s welfare than for the efficient operation of power. The possibility of languishing in the City Jail serves as Manila residents’ hindrance to lawbreaking.
Manila is a far cry from the punitive cities of old where public executions used to be staged. Disciplines proved to be a crucial element in this difference. In MCJ, discipline is used as a pattern of techniques to control its prisoners’ bodily operation. By their imprisonment, the MCJ prisoners have forced, mechanized movements in order to limit their experience of time and space. The duration of their conviction in MCJ serves as their timetable device, their routinary prisoner roll call serves as their military drill device, and their prison exercise is meant to create individuals out of their nameless mass. MCJ prisoners undergo exercise with their attempt to impose progressively complicated activities on their body in order to regulate it. They perform drills and engage in physical training.
Discipline is employed by the prison administrators in order to control the prisoners’ movement and operation constantly. It is via discipline that entire populations are controlled, and is the same technique that works in regulating the populace of Manila. It was revealed that prisoners are so afraid of jail guards because one inmate so much as approached the gate and that inmate got a vigorous blow at the back by the infuriated jail guard.
The MCJ in particular and the City of Manila in general cannot have existed in the absence of the idea of mass regulation of movement and people. The MCJ exemplifies the disciplinary power of hierarchical observation, normalizing judgment and examination, which are instrumentalized by the MCJ’s guards’ and the public’s observation and gaze. Hence, the prisoners as well as the entire city get normalized. Norm is the average standard from the human sciences that measures people and since the MCJ prisoners fall short of the normal sane, law abiding, and obedient citizens, they exist as abnormal for their criminality and deviance. The norm of Manilans may be set against the MCJ prisoners’ deviance in order to assess and control the former’s categories and, in effect, to make the latter conform to normal and decrease the rate at which inescapable, harmful deviance emerges.
The MCJ patterns itself from the panopticon wherein the prisoners are shown to be supervised and regulated with efficiency via the main tower of an office in the center of MCJ. In this prison, the Foucauldian idea of discipline works. Its prisoners are obviously deprived of their freedom to live in the mainstream society of Manila and are being reformed while inside the City Jail. They also undergo the penitentiary wherein their imprisonment gets infused with the hospital by virtue of the process of rehabilitation inside the jail and the workshop by virtue of the process of rendering labor. The penitentiary of the MCJ more than just deprives the prisoners’ freedom by rendering them to work, and by being observed and treated in the prison hospital. Foucauldian concept of prison system incorporates workshop, prison and hospital. Afterwards, they will undergo the delinquent, which is created by the jail to weed out the prisoners’ popular behavior by responding to the modifications in the prisoners’ misconduct. There may be the inherent failure of prisons like the MCJ, but this failure in combination with operation makes the carceral system of MCJ. The carceral system of the MCJ shows its architecture, its controlling mechanisms and its employees. MCJ’s carceral system moves from there to the mainstream Manila society, proven by the network of power in the forms of the transport system, the academe, and the businesses. Its elements are the discipline of the MCJ, the formulation of the logical technique for administering its prisoners, the rise of criminality in the society and the reform strategies. Hence, this system and MCJ itself aim to generate delinquency in the prisoners in order to structure and regulate crime. After becoming a prisoner, the MCJ inmate becomes a delinquent, fashioned out of the operation of the carceral system and the human sciences and severely divided from other popular illegal activities. The MCJ delinquent is integral to the tiny, toughened group of criminals that is associated with the low class. Being defined as abnormal, he is analyzed and regulated by the mechanisms of MCJ. As a delinquent, the MCJ inmate is easier to observe and regulate than the criminal and is obviously separated from the rest of Manila society. The delinquents of MCJ are more manageable than their alternatives of criminals hanging around the city because they are easily identified. They figure as an answer to the dangers of the lower classes, which are too many to be categorized, much less deal with. With how delinquency works in MCJ, the administrators succeed. MCJ’s interspersion in the power network that includes the pedagogical institution of the Far Eastern University among others in the university belt, the transportation institutions of the Light Rail Transit-2 and jeepneys plying in the Recto, Avenida and Quezon Boulevard areas, the commercial institutions of the Isetann Mall and Odeon Mall, the printshops, the Divisoria stalls and the fly-by-night pirates, and the sovereign power of the Malacañang Palace is a societal strategy that establishes MCJ’s real function and underpins itself in the Manila’s modern society. As such, the discourse in which MCJ figures makes the prison central to the idea of punishment since it cannot be abolished, lacking any alternative for MCJ.
It is understandable that MCJ’s institutional origin harks back to the Spanish Colonial period, which was itself informed by the mother colonizer’s exposure to the modern world’s generation of typical institutions and structures, along with the human sciences and regulatory mechanisms like psychology, psychiatry, sociology, criminology and medicine, all of which form a constellation of power which defines and control human behavior through norms and its opposite, deviation. Penality is used by the MCJ as a specific system of investigation and punishment. In this system, the MCJ prisoners, being lawbreakers, are examined and treated. The MCJ’s prison and the supervision and regulation of the convicts are the very basis of Manila district’s system of penality. Meanwhile, the Foucauldian concept of power, the relationship between individuals wherein one influences another’s behavior, may be seen in the MCJ setup. The ones with power in MCJ, the jail personnel, restrict and change the prisoners’ will in order to make these formerly free people do what they would never do otherwise. In the MCJ setup, this is the existing human relationship that is relatively stable and unchangeable. The action of punishment is the established power of the dominant personnel over the prisoners. Since human sciences are being applied in the MCJ, they possess knowledge and power which enable them to control and exclude people. The delinquents of the MCJ are the dominated in the system of power relations within. They suffer exclusion because the power of human sciences being applied in MCJ generates a claim to truth: the prisoners prove to be anomalies to the norm that exists in Manila society by virtue of the socially harmful crimes that they committed.
Considering that such committed crimes are plagues to the modern society of Manila, the MCJ is the institution in which measures are being taken: the jail spaces are partitioned and this large house is closed off from the rest of Manila, with the MCJ personnel constantly inspecting and registering the prisoners. Within MCJ, processes of behavioral quarantine and purification take place, a means for the plague of crime to be met by order aimed at creating a disciplined community. The sets of techniques being applied in MCJ for measuring and observing the prisoners are the disciplinary mechanisms spawned by the fear of criminal acts. One such mechanism is MCJ’s own panopticon, the building whose central tower is the vantage point at which incarcerated prisoners may be viewed. The prisoner’ visibility is a trap since they are seen but cannot communicate with other prisoners, much less their warders. This sense of perpetual visibility created by the panopticon is meant to ensure the operation of MCJ’s power. The prisoners may see the tower but the power of which cannot be verified because they do not know from which point they are being viewed. This laboratory of power wherein experiments function over prisoners is a model of defined power relations between the MCJ personnel and prisoners in their daily interaction within the prison. It is a diagram of power whose operation is idealized because all the prisoners can be controlled but only a few MCJ staff are needed to make the panopticon function. This architectural design is meant to give the staff power over the prisoner’s minds. Hence, there is less risk of tyrannical jaibreak on the part of the prisoners because they can be inspected from atop the tower. Since power emanating from the MCJ panopticon proves efficient, it helps in the development of the economy by making businesses in the Divisoria area possible, it spreads education with the rise of the University Belt, among other social developments. The MCJ panopticon symbolizes the subordination of prisoners’ bodies while needing neither the Manila mayor’s office nor the Malacañang Palace in its midst.
The MCJ’s panopticon symbolizes the manner wherein discipline and punishment operate in modern Manila. By looking at it, one sees the way processes of observation and examination function in this diagram of power. The concept of discipline wherein all prisoners are supervised and analyzed is represented in the MCJ panopticon which makes the supervision and analysis easy to conduct. This building develops out of the necessity for observation of the criminals. Criminal measures within the MCJ are necessary to protect Manila because its panopticon permits power to operate economically owing to its functional, permanent building. In the MCJ community, discipline is based on observation and examination, the methods of coercion that oversee the whole of prison colony. The MCJ Main Office, situated in the center of the complex, oversees the prisoners who, surprisingly, are not punished for chatting with one another while being allowed to flow out for the mealtime, even with the loitering guards in view.
It is not accidental that Manila, a relatively urban society, offers greater opportunities for control and observation than, say, less sophisticated societies in the Philippine countryside. This modern society is assumed to see Manilans as free citizens entitled to make specific demands on the city officials. It may be best understood with the mechanisms (i.e. MCJ) that also regulate and examine Manila citizens. This examination is spread out in the vicinity of the MCJ, itself an examining institution for prisoners. Universities in the U-Belt area, for instance, resemble the MCJ in terms of their examination of the collegiate students who are categorized as individuals and are made to conform to the existing norm in Manila. It must be pointed out that these students spend the formative years of their lives in their universities, hence their normative behavior. This is not to mention that these universities, along with hospitals and factories, look architecturally similar to the observational modern penal instrument that the MCJ is.
This integration of the MCJ into the Manila society of academes, businesses, transport systems and sovereign power is significant because abolishing the prison is unimaginable in consideration of its deep-rooted attachment in society. Granted that prisons get abolished, Manila cannot resort to practical alternatives because punishing the criminals of Manila centers on imprisoning them. The complicated institution of the MCJ is an extension of the mechanisms of supervision and examination operating beyond its walls, i.e. Far Eastern University. In the MCJ, the prisoners’ behaviors get recorded, their mental condition evaluated, and the abnormality studied, not to mention that they are constantly supervised. The MCJ’s foremost aim, it must be remembered, is to wrest away its prisoners’ freedom, with the secondary aims of reforming their characters via exercise, workshop and training. This shows why the MCJ is a penitentiary where the combination of the various operations of workshop engages prisoners with the system of production in order to maximize prison power. This economization of the MCJ prisoners’ functioning redefines them from being prisoners to delinquents. This modification calls for the individuals’ becoming the subjects of knowledge, which is what the penitentiary is also about. They are observed and classified through the particular technical means of criminology, so the MCJ prisoners are entangled in the complex relationship between MCJ’s disciplinary power and the knowledge it spawns.
The MCJ, however, is not quite successful as a penal remedy. It fails at reforming delinquency but the carceral system reorganizes knowledge about crime instead of eliminating it. The concept that MCJ contains its own failure is a decided paradox, then, because the technique was still adopted and the prison remains existent rather than abolished. The MCJ is like a psychiatric institution in marking out and isolating the abnormal or lawbreaking elements of Manila. In performing this, it produces the prisoners that can be regulated for various uses by the state. This is not to say that MCJ only creates crime but that this illegality on the part of the prisoners justifies the existence of the carceral system. The prisoners’ behaviors which violate the law must be controlled through delinquency. Since a delinquent is less illegal compared to a criminal, delinquents in the MCJ may be easily identified and regulated using the similar techniques functioning in the rest of the society, thereby power struggle may be resolved in the form of the wider system of discipline that’s the prison and the carceral system.
The MCJ is a site where the prison, the penitentiary and the carceral system are strung in their respective places. Specifically, the carceral system goes beyond the walls of MCJ in order to link the prison to the rest of Manila by a network of academic, transport, corporate and state power which molds everybody’s life in Manila. Why the strategy of placing MCJ in the midst of this network of power? Foucault’s bathe-and-switch gives the answer. In this manner, the penitentiary was established to rehabilitate the criminals in order to decrease the crime rate. The people, in this case Manilans, do not raise a ruckus out of it by trusting that the advocates of penitentiary will deliver their goals. The failure lies in continued manufacturing of criminals in and outside the jail. Without these outlaws, however, governance will hardly exist. Therefore, it is necessary for this institution to fail because with its remedial techniques, there will be constituency which can impose all kinds of governance. This makes the carceral system powerful. Taken as a whole, the MCJ is thus architecturally structured and strategically operated in order to make the inmates behave in such a way that they will be disciplined and reformed. The MCJ and its relationship with the entire Manila society are indispensable owing to the prison’s close integration to the city. As MCJ proves, the prison is not a forgotten building sitting at the margins of the city. The strategies of power and knowledge actually function in both MCJ and Manila since the mechanism regulating the delinquent likewise controls the citizens. Since crime is a result of civilization, bearing within it a figure and a future, the penitentiary is a manner at which the undesirable may be excluded. The contradiction of the whole lot affirms that crime has the possibility of wielding itself against the civilization that generated it.