Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm

By on November 5, 2010

iwahig - gate

The gate in the above picture is the only physical barrier at the Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm in Puerto Princesa. Other than this structure, you could see no fences or barbed wires that would secure the perimeter of the 38,000 ha. facility. It may seem that it was erected as a mere formality to indicate that this is the starting point of the famous prison in Puerto Princesa.

But despite the lack of the minimum security barriers, there has been no reported escape of any inmate at all. It would be technically impossible to do that since the mountains that border the prison are home to malaria-infested mosquitoes. If the adventurous prisoner survives the deadly bites, then he or she would have to worry how to get out of the Palawan island unnoticed and at the quickest route possible.

Without promo airfare or boat tickets, then what that would-be convict has is essentialy a logistics nightmare. I wonder then how Michael Scofield or Andy Dufresne would stage an elaborate and complex escape with the difficulties I mentioned.

iwahig - facilities

Perhaps the real reason why there are no jailbreaks at Iwahig, is that the prisoners are given a sense of freedom that could not be found elsewhere. The facility has everything for their basic needs – a church, sports facilities and vast lands to farm on. Some prisoners are even given the privilege of having their families to live in the nearby village.

They also wear color-coded shirts based on the possible threat they would pose. Those in orange (maximum) are locked up in traditional prison bar. Only those who are wearing blue (medium) or brown (minimum threat) shirts are free to roam around the facility. But they convene at the central village square for a headcount that is done three times a day.

iwahig - souvenir shop

iwahig - keychains

The small keychains are sold for Php100.00 a dozen.

The prisoners do not dance too amuse curious tourists or themselves. But they are preoccupied in creating handiworks such as keychains, carved figures and the like. These would then be sold at the souvenir center, the proceeds of which would be used for their personal needs or would be sent home to their loved ones.

Outside the shop, I was surprised to see Cebuano-speaking inmates who were transferred from jailhouses as far as Cebu and Cagayan de Oro. They were just waiting a few more years to serve the remaining portion of their sentences. After which, they would probably be back in their hometowns or search for jobs in the city.

iwahig - bikers

These minimum-security prisoners were biking on the picturesque highway outside Iwahig.

But in a society that judges a person’s value based solely on his past and not his future, then I would not be surprised at all if there would also be those who would choose not to leave Iwahig in the end. This borderless prison has given them the closest to a second chance to a life of dignity and purpose, which may elude them once they are already in the outside world.


November 4, 2010

November 12, 2010

  1. Reply


    March 21, 2011

    i figured no one would try to escape from this prison kay they would rather choose to stay here – free food, free TV, nice bunks – than be outside and earn a living for their families..

  2. Reply


    March 29, 2011

    yup, that could be one practical reason. difficulties in integrating with outside world could be another.


Brennan Mercado
The Philippines

Brennan is an electronics engineer by profession. From time to time, he gets to travel beyond his office cubicle, try new restaurants or catch up with his terribly long list of unread books. He likes museums, spicy food and talking with habal-habal drivers. For now, he's still deciding on whether to play Pokémon GO or not.

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