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Child inmates in Legazpi city jail have been serving more than their sentences

December 20, 2007 ·  By Rhaydz B. Barcia Correspondent

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Thursday, December 20, 2007
By Rhaydz B. Barcia Correspondent

LEGAZPI CITY: Marco Tolentino, (not his real name), now 15 and going on 16, was sentenced to prison for two years and four months by the Regional Trial Court, but he has been languishing in jail much longer than his sentence.

Marco, whose address is the Philippine National Railway site in this city, told The Manila Times that he was sent to jail when he was 13 years old for involvement in a robbery.

Marco is among the 13 minor inmates in conflict with the law held at the juvenile unit of the Legazpi City Jail. But some of his fellow convicts have been freed while others were transferred to the regular adult prisoners’ cells.

“I am serving more than my punishment. I wish I could be freed this Christmas to celebrate my 16th birthday and reunited with my family. Now, I realize how hard it is to be away from my family. I have no peace,” he told The Times bitterly.

Marco’s father is a manager of a well-known bottling company. His mother is a former barangay official but lost in the October 29 elections. His eldest sister is a teacher. His older brother is a policeman while the rest of his four siblings are in school.

He is the fourth child in the family.

Marco was a high school freshman then when he was charged with theft by Liberty Commercial Center.

“We were just tripping. My classmates took a t-shirt and passed it on to me. Unfortunately I was caught by the roving agents. My more than two years in jail taught me a lesson. It’s not too late to start a new life of discipline and goodness. I learned to pray rosary from members of a religious organization who taught us how to pray and be better persons. I will pursue my schooling when I’m free,” he said.

The case of Marco does not quite belong to the “Poor children, Black Christmas” special report. He is from a well-to-do family. But the other children in the later part of this article belong to truly poor families.

Marco and his fellow inmates (Vladimir, 15, Homer, 16, Ramon, 16, not their real names) were exchanging pleasantries when I went to the Legazpi City Jail on Friday afternoon. The friendly jail guards allowed me to chat with the youth inmates.

All of these youth inmates wish to be freed this Christmas to be with their families. But that isn’t easy because their cases are tried only once a year.

The serious delay of their trial is because there is no family court, Jail Officer 3 Arnold Lasam told me.

“I have been imprisoned for nearly three years now. There was one hearing this year. If the next hearing is next year, will I be held in prison for another year? My sentence is only for two years. I’m sad because I might be in jail for several years,” Ramon said, echoing Marco’s lament.

Ramon is charged with car theft.

The Legazpi City jail is well organized and clean. The minors are kept in separate cells, each with its own comfort room.

These youth inmates get a non-formal education from Lance Woods, and American Peace Corp volunteer assigned to assist City Social Welfare Department of Legazpi city. Woods is teaching English to the children inmates.

Some of the minor inmates told me they committed their crimes due to peer pressure. Others said they were pushed to do the bad deed by poverty.

All of them told me they are to be good citizens when they go back to the world.

Legazpi City Mayor Noel Rosal put up a home for children in conflict with the law several years ago. Unfortunately, typhoon Reming damages it severely. The Legazpi City Youth Home was built in Barangay Poro, Legazpi City. When repaired, it will be used exclusively to house child offenders now detained at the city jail. END

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