Dr. Filomin C. Gutierrez, Professor at the Department of Sociology at the University of the Philippines Diliman, is currently Vice-Chair of the Philippine Social Science Council and Executive Committee Member of the International Sociological Association. She has served as former President of Philippine Sociological Society and Editor of the Philippine Sociological Review. She finished her Ph.D. in Sociology at the University of the Philippines Diliman working on a dissertation on intersections of gender and social class in Philippine history. She has published journal articles on issues such as youth delinquency, history of criminology, and prison gangs. Her research interests include social deviance, masculine organizations, and fraternity violence. Dr. Gutierrez was the former Chair of the UP Diliman Department of Sociology.
The Legitimacy and Perils of Self-Governance: Inmate Gangs at the Bilibid Maximum
Based on a 2012 study using focused group discussions of inmates, documents review, and field observations, the Maximum Security Prison Compound at the New Bilibid Prison holds 12 inmates gangs that managed 95 percent of its population.
The pangkat or system of inmate gangs originally served as defense and combat grouping in the 1950s to survive riots rising from regional and ethno-linguistic conflicts between the Tagalog-speaking Sigue-Sigue and the non-Tagalog-speaking OXO gangs. Over the years, major changes have taken place in the pangkat system. The pangkat legitimized itself as inmate self-governance by producing social capital upon the pivotal entry of visiting families and friends (dalaw) and civil society groups in the 1970s. Social barriers broke down to reduce riots and increase cooperation among gangs for the collective well being of the community. Conjugal and family visits and incursions of tagalaya into the compound reduced inmate isolation, supported masculine roles and status for inmates to resume, created a local economy, and revitalized rehabilitation programs.
Given the inadequacy of state services, inmates gravitated towards a social order that fills the political vacuum needed to arbitrate disputes, ameliorate provisions, bargain for visitation rights, and partner with civil society groups for rehabilitation activities. However, the permeability of prison walls combined with the demand to maintain governance costs, limited transparency of the pangkat also opened gaps for illegal networks to exploit the its social capital. Money laundering, continued drug trade operations from inside prison, unequal privileges, and physical violence as discipline are some of the illegal activities that have allegedly found its way into the compound. Finding a right balance between inmate rights to self-order and connect with the outside world while insulating it from corruption and illegal opportunities remains a crucial challenge that inmate self-governance must surmount if it should remain as a viable form of prison management.