Bilibid Storiy 01 from Fr Eli Lumbo, SJ of the Philippine Jesuit Prison Service
Last July 5, I was in the Ateneo to pick up donations of 500 kilos of vegetables and around 170 kilos in 10 crates of dried fish (tuyo) for different parishes, dioceses and institutions. This was coursed through Tanging Yaman Foundation by MVP’s Group of Companies. When I arrived in Bilibid, I decided to bring the vegetables inside the Medium Security Compound.
When I arrived inside the prison facility, I asked some BuCor officials and PDLs if the donations can be distributed to all PDLs (almost 8,000 persons) in the compound. They said, “kaya yan.” So, some PDLs were summoned to help in repacking the donations. As the contents were poured out, I could not help but be happy and overwhelmed by the donations, and I prayed that the donations will benefit everyone.
As I was watching the repacking, I could not help but be thankful to those who made the donation possible and to our loving God for the provision. The vegetables and the dried fish I know are needed and will be appreciated by the PDLs. We decided to distribute the dried fish first to the PDLS in a couple of the buildings. It was raining hard, but the spirit of the PDLs and the Corrections officers helping in the repacking was high. The gratitude of the PDL representatives and the PDLs who witnessed what was being distributed in each of the cells was also touching and heartrending at some points.
Many were saying, “malaking bagay na ito, Father.” Some raised their voices to their cell mates, saying, “mga kasama, may ulam tayo.” I passed by one PDL who was eating. I saw only rice in his bowl. I asked him, “ano po ang ulam ninyo?” He replied, “wala po, Father, pero kay na po ito; at least may nakakain” I could only close my eyes to control my tears. I sighed, and after a while said, “Kuya, may ulam na po kayo. May gulay na din.” He replied, “Salamat po Father. Salamat sa Diyos.” Another PDL said to me, “Father, maraming-maraming salamat sa mga ginagawa mo sa aming mga bilanggo. Kung hindi dahil sa inyo, hindi naming alam kung ano ang mangyari, hindi naming alam kung kanino pa kami aasa.” This again, moved me. I replied, “pasalamat po tayo sa Diyos na hindi kayo pinababayaan. Salamat tayo sa mga nagbigay at magbibigay. Dasal lang tayo at manalig sa Diyos.” He and his companions smiled at me and together said, “salamat po. Pagpalain kayo ng Diyos.” It was at this point that I was tearing up inside and was moved to tears again. They were blessing me, and I truly felt blessed.
Truly, to witness the hunger, the sickness, the pain, and the loneliness in prison was heartbreaking. But to witness as well the gratitude despite the little that was given, to see the other PDLs caring for the sick without being afraid, to feel the PDLs’ pain and loneliness, and yet acknowledge their inner strength and faith, and to behold their calm and steadfastness despite everything and the uncertainty this pandemic has wrought, was life-giving and hope-inspiring, a God-filled experience. It was witnessing to the presence of God, the certainty of His love, and the assurance of His mercy to the people behind the prison walls.
Someone I spoke with after said, some people would turn a blind eye, a deaf ear or just be plain insensitive to the plight of the poor PDLs. She said, “Pero Father, iba ka. Hindi mo kaya maging bulag, o bingi o manhid.” As she was saying that, I just nodded. In my mind, I thought, perhaps this is why I am here, doing prison ministry, because I feel, empathize, and sympathize so much. I asked myself, “How can I be blind, or deaf or insensitive? God has always seen me, heard me and felt for me. I am loved beyond measure. I have also been witness to how God has answered the prayers of the PDLs, and seen for myself how the poor PDLs are loved unconditionally and consistently by our God.