New Bilibid: A Muntinlupeño Landmark

Bilibid Nuevo: smack right in the middle of a town called Muntinglupa

I’ve been seeing a lot of my hometown by bicycle lately. Its different when you visit places riding your bike (it could be hazardous though national rd is infested with reckless jeepney drivers!) things look a little better and to top it off biking is a great cardio workout.

I recently visited the Bilibid area, brought my camera and took some pictures of a place infamous for being the country’s central prison facility. I could still remember when we first came  in town in mid 90’s. When I tell friends (most are from Manila and Makati) that we relocated to Muntinlupa, they’ll jokingly ask me the  question “sa loob o sa labas?”. Another funny memory I had, this time in college was this guy who would tell the class that “I’m from Alabang not Muntinlupa!”, the fool knows that Alabang is in Muntinlupa but the social climbing goat does not want to be associated with Muntinlupa but with the classy uppity villages. Such was the reputation of Muntinlupa before but this has drastically changed over the years. Today, Muntinlupa is known for its Makati-sque transformation, a stark contrast from the days when it was  known just for being host to hardcore criminals and electric chair executions.

There’s a lot of history behind this place. When I say history I’m pertaining to its early years. The original Bilibid (in Manila) called Carcel y Presidio Correccional was established through a king’s decree. After the devastation the revolution brought to our economy followed shortly by the brutal  Filipino American war more and more people begun to have problems keeping up with the new imposed American laws. A bigger facility (500 hectares wide) was needed the Yankees declared. This time the new place was created outside the Capital, far down south, which was a smart move. They don’t want to be dealing with criminals and “insurgents” (just imagine the flight of these revolutionaries) in the capital no more.

The new prison altered the once sleepy cogon infested town of Muntinglupa (transferred in 1936). Commerce had increased around the town because of the people that worked in and out of the prison and its visitors.  The parish moved the Church near the new main road and Prison complex from its original location (near the lake) it now it sits at the crossroads of what is today called “bayan” but I’m not certain if this can be attributed to the development of prison facility. What I do know is that the old spot where the church use to stand was quite small and contained. The old place now is now a residential area but the parish still celebrates the church’s foundation in the actual spot where the first missionaries erected their church.

I’m assuming that the old houses in the lakeside was destroyed during the war but I had been informed that there are quite a few old houses that survived near where the old church once stand, originally the site of the old settlement called Muntinglupa.

I’ve never entered the prison complex, this is my third visit and I’m happy to be outside looking in (hirap siguro ng buhay bilango). Some historical people had endured hard time inside this prison. My favorite is Amado Hernandez who was said to had created some of his greatest work while incarcerated. Hernandez, a national artist married to Atang de la Rama (also a national artist) wrote a play entitled “Muntinglupa” based on his prison experiences. I had been searching for a copy of this play for some time and I believe that the city government should start promoting Amado Hernandez’s plays – most of which is said to had been based on his prison experiences in Muntinglupa.

The most famous former prisoner of Bilibid is Gen. Yamashita, who eventually was executed in Los Baños. His remains is said to have been buried in a secret location in Los Banos that up to this day is unknown (this according to the memoirs of an army man who placed the ropes around his neck).

Jamboree Lake. If this is indeed a lake it could be the smallest but then again it could be classified as something else. What's interesting is that inmates from the old days did hard labor expanding this body of water.

Aside from the prison complex there’s this small “peace” memorial that was funded by the Japanese government. Its located near the monument (sculpted on a small knoll in the road side) of the first Filipino warden, Eriberto Misa. This man is an interesting figure according to Choy Arnaldo (not related but a history buff  I think): “He sought to humanize the conditions of convicted criminals. He had already established his reputation as a fearless and honest PC Constabulary Officer,  and had previously served as warden of the  Iwahig Penal Colony in Palawan. Although he was born on July 7, 1889 in Bolinao, Zambales (now  absorbed into Pangasinan)”.

Many Japanese were executed in Muntinglupa and most of these men are buried in the cemetery up hill. There’s also a memorial in that cemetery where Japanese visitors offer colorful paper cranes and incence for their dead. I was told that some of them still weep for their dead.

The Jamboree lake is said to be the smallest in thecountry. It is amusingly small. There’s a WWII artillery gunner near the lake, I’m not sure if it was it actual location during the war. There’s still some fresh air around this vicinity –ideal for those who wants to exercise or just relax under the shades of the tall trees around. Not far is the church administered by Friars of the Order of  the Servants of Mary.

The Warden's quarter. This place served as administrative office for both Americans and Japanese officers. The house is not reall in great shape but its elegant haven't faded.

A panoramic view of the Warden's quarter

My favorite building actually is tucked inside the compound, guarded by heavily armed body guards. It’s the warden’s quarter. A beautiful early 20th American house with subtle touches of Filipino influence. Its not a century old house having been built sometime in 1930’s but the style is truly timeless. I haven’t read extensively on the American influence in our architecture but this one feels like Victorian meets romantic Filipino style. The fact that it has survived all these years is a testament to its durability. Time has not diminished its elegance. Its been used by American, Filipino and Japanese officials through out the years of its existence. The place has so much history not known to many. There’s not a lot of old houses in town left, hope this one stays for Muntilupeño’s future generation.


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