The 1987 Constitution of the Philippines guarantees to defend the basic right to life, liberty, and property of its citizens. There are also provisions that protect our freedom of speech, of expression, and of the press, among others. But when a citizen wronged society due to breach of another’s freedom, can he be free again? This article is not about constitutional law but is focused on what the erring citizens go through to be free despite the barriers to freedom and how the free learn from the unfree.
I exposed my MBA students to Persons Deprived of Liberty (PDLs) in the New Bilibid Prison as part of their Service Learning Project for their Lasallian Business Leadership course. At the beginning, there were resistance from one or two of these students who asked, “Would a visit to the prison facility be worth my time and effort? Why don’t we just go to other venues for service learning? Anyway, these prisoners are considered liability to society.”
The prison exposure entails two immersion days, one for needs assessment and the other for project implementation. During the first meeting, graduate students talk to the PDLs, get to know their situation, and mutually plan for the project that can address the needs of the inmates who are studying while in prison. Students discover the elusive reality of the unfree.. the choice of space to live, people to interact, and access to life’s joys are no longer viable. The choice left for a better future is enrolment to an alternative learning system within the facility free of charge. A fourth of the population in the Medium Security Command attend school.
During the interaction, the desire to positively contribute to the rehabilitation of the inmates germinate. Insights on the importance and appreciation of physical freedom emerge. A deeper awareness to remain free by doing good is cemented. The free learn from the unfree to value this-taken-for granted freedom so as not become a number in prison.
On the project implementation day, graduate students prepare to share talents and resources contributing to the rehabilitation program of the facility. Various interventions augmenting knowledge, values and skills acquisition are facilitated among groups from the ALS—Elementary, ALS-High School, College, School of Fine Arts, Tech-Voc and Basic Literacy Programs. There are even medical, spiritual, artistic and academic activities done to address total wellness of the PDLs.
So, what are the impact and meaning of these interventions?
First, students learn to value what Nelson Mandela said in his autobiography, “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” By the presence of graduate students and considering the PDLs as people first, hope is enkindled and exudes the message of respect for another human being despite their conditions.
Second, the PDLs may be menace, yet deserve second chances… they may not be physically free, but can be freed from anger, envy, hatred and revenge which limit their spirit. Graduate students bring the message that all is not lost, rather possibilities are multiple and living positively uplifts one’s spirit amid chaotic personal circumstances.
Third, the supposedly free may be living an imprisoned life born from their childhood experiences, unwise decisions, unbelief in their capacity to care as well as self-deprivation due inability to show love. The dialogic interaction between graduate students and the inmates bring reflective moments to rethink one’s situation and an opportunity to change perspective.
Fourth, trusting in the process of learning brings about transformation of the mind, the heart and spirit. An unknown reality brings about fear and uneasiness. But a strong faith that invest time and effort harvests change in perspective and behavior.
Who then is freer? The helped or the helper? The free or the unfree? In the words of St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, “it is not how much you do, but how much love you put into what you do that counts.” Moreover, she reminds us to “let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness: Kindness in your face. Kindness in your eyes. Kindness in your smile.”
We are called to minister to each other. We are called to be free.
Dr. Maria Paquita D. Bonnet is Chairperson and full-time Faculty of the Management and Organization Department, Ramon del Rosario College of Business, De la Salle University. She teaches Lasallian Business Leadership, Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility, and Strategic Human Resource Management. She also teaches at the Educational Leadership and Management Department of the same university. She can be contacted at [email protected] The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administrators.