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Friday, September 22, 2023

Merry Christmas to one and all

As a young boy growing up inside the New Bilibid Prison reservation in the early 50s, I recall being roused from my sleep by the prison band doing its early rounds summoning one and all to the Simbang Gabi.

Then it was time for the whole family to hear the first of nine pre-dawn masses. Attendance was mandated by my mother, who was an officer of the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) Reservation Catholic Women’s League.

Although my father, the prison superintendent, dutifully said “Amen”, my mother had to practically drag me out of bed. The whole family then walked a few hundred meters from the Superintendent’s quarters to the prison chapel which was located inside the prison compound.

Prison officials and their families occupied the front pews. Among them was Miss Alma Romero, my catechism teacher, who instructed me on how important it was to prepare for the coming of the Lord.

Minimum security prisoners, easily identifiable because of their light brown uniforms, also heard mass but stayed at the back. The prison band which had earlier roused us from our sleep was also around for a final fanfare at the end of the mass.

Miss Romero must have been very disappointed with her student as I dosed in and out of sleep throughout the mass said by Monsignor Benidicto Arroyo. But always, I woke up just in time to hear the good monsignor give his final blessings.

The thought of having hot puto bumbong ready as soon as we stepped out of theprison chapel was incentive enough for me to now stay awake.

In the next nights leading to Christmas, I joined neighborhood kids going caroling. Before we separated, we split the proceeds from caroling and I almost always ended up with 5 centavos and a few pieces of candy. I felt rich.

The homes of prison employees we carolled were decorated by colorful parols or lanterns beautifully crafted by – you guessed correctly –prisoners. Incidentally,

some skilled prisoners regularly made good money selling their paintings, woodcarvings and other handicrafts to prison visitors.

On Christmas day, my mother would hire the jeepney of Mang Tanto Arciaga. The whole family, minus my father who had to stay behind, made the rounds of all our ninongs and ninangs based in Manila. By the end of the day, we would have two grayarmy duffel bags full of wrapped gifts and other goodies.

Years later, when we were all grown ups, my elder sister ABB, started regularly visiting prisoners on Christmas as well as on her birthday.

Her project to visit prisoners was inspired by the biblical story related in Matthew 25:36 which read in part: “I was in prison and you visited Me.” She called her group Matthew 25.

They would bring food and gifts to selected prisoners, normally the visitor-less and infirm inmates. After she passed away in 2006, I thought that it would be a good endeavor to pursue.

I proposed the idea to the Kiwanis Club of Muntinlupa and that was how our own project got started.

Around November of each year, Muntinlupa Kiwanettes went out of their way to buy some very basic needs of prisoners which they later packed into individual packages for distribution.

The process of procuring (usually in Divisoria) and packing the items was in itself a happy opportunity for bonding among the Kiwanettes.

The day of gift-giving was usually held during the first two weeks of December as a pre-Christmas party for the prisoners.

On that day, around 300 pre-selected inmates were invited to join the Kiwanians at the NBP Social Hall where they were treated to Christmas carols, stories of hope and redemption, a hearty snack and a Christmas package consisting of toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, face towel and a pair of rubber slippers.

One can not imagine how happy we made the prisoners that day. We learned that many of them have not seen any of their loved ones for the last five years.

But I observed the Kiwanians and Kiwanettes came out of that experience even more fulfilled. They felt more blessed, knowing that even for a brief moment they brought joy and hope to our less fortunate brethren.

Last Friday, the Kiwanis Club of Muntinlupa, led by President Randy Garcia, and the Muntinlupa Kiwanettes led by Muntinlupa’ s First Lady, Lor Fresnedi, visited prisoners at the medium security prison compound.

The shortest day

Readers Lee Magpantay, Rosalinda Limbo and Jandy Rojas Cantoy noticed that as early as 3 p.m. last Thursday (Dec. 21) the sky started to get dark. And by 5 p.m. night had fallen. Many other people started asking why.

December 21 happened to be really the shortest day of the year. Here is the explanation which I lifted from a science journal:

"The winter solstice is on December 21 (today) and is the "shortest" day of the year and marks the start of the winter period.

"This is because the tilt of the Earth’s axis is least aligned with the sun, providing us with the least daylight of the year.

"After December 21, the nights will begin to get shorter as our planet rotates towards the sun.

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