The green, green grass of ‘Munti’

The Tom Jones generation will perhaps know one of his hits…”The old home town looks the same as I step down from the train…It’s good to touch the green, green grass of home.”

However, few may know the sad story behind it. It is a tale of a prisoner who longs to be free and come home. The image that is etched in his mind is the green, green grass of his hometown.

I was reminded of this song when we visited the New Bilibid Prison. 

On a lighter note, a Muntinlupa resident would react to the question, “Saan ka nakatira?” and wittily answer, “Sa labas!”  Muntinlupa has always been associated with the New Bilibid Prison (NBP), the main insular prison designed to house the prison population of the Philippines. 

It is maintained by the Bureau of Corrections under  the Department of Justice. It was built during the Commonwealth Period and by 1940, the prisoners and facilities were transferred from Old Bilibid to the new prison. The Old Bilibid is now the Manila City Jail. Both prisons interned not only ordinary criminals but also prisoners-of-war (POW) and political prisoners.

Notable Prisoners

Former Senator Jovito Salonga was imprisoned by the kempetai during the Japanese occupation. General Yamashita was incarcerated while undergoing trial for war crimes. Luis Taruc, leader of the Hukbalahap movement was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment but was later pardoned. Amado V. Hernandez, National Artist for Literature wrote his masterpieces while imprisoned in the facility.

Barangay Poblacion

I have been to the Old Bilibid during a high school Boy Scout immersion program and to the New Bilibid when my college fraternity played a basketball game with the inmates. I haven’t been back until now but this time we were limited to the barangay outside the prison facilities. It turns out that one of the last remaining green patches are found in Barangay Poblacion which covers the National Bilibid Prison (NBP) including the Memorial Hill, Jamboree Lake and Ina ng Awa Parish. 

Memorial Hill

Sunrise at Laguna de Bay

Our urban exploration started early in Bayanan Baywalk to experience sunrise at Laguna de Bay. Although it was a little cloudy, it was interesting to witness fisherfolk loading their catch of the day and selling them fresh on the spot. After a hearty breakfast in a neighborhood carinderia, we took several rides to reach Barangay Poblacion.

Breakfast at Munti

Green Patches

We finally arrived at the barangay surrounding the NBP Compound. It was reminiscent of U.P. Diliman Campus with all the trees and a sunken garden. Located in the eastern portion of the New Bilibid is the Jamboree Lake. At 1.5 hectares, it is considered the smallest natural lake in the country within the 587-hectare New Bilibid Prison Reservation. There is a statue of Lady Justice on the islet in the middle of the lake and a small lotus garden. 

Jamboree Lake

A short hiking trail encircles Jamboree Lake. One part of the trail will bring you to Memorial Hill where you will find a World War II vintage Japanese Cannon. This is also the burial site of Major Eriberto Misa Sr. who served as prison director for 12 years, the longest tenure for the post. There is said to be a Filipino-Japanese peace monument dedicated to Japanese soldiers imprisoned and executed in Muntinlupa during WWII.

Walking toward the penitentiary, we saw a sign “Moral and Spiritual Division.” This manifests the prison rehabilitation program to reduce recidivism. We also passed by Ina ng Awa Parish and an outdoor coffee shop. Before reaching the gate of the New Bilibid, we saw people gathered around above the sunken garden watching a battalion of uniformed men marching in cadence. We did not attempt to enter the prison compound because prison tours were suspended but walking around the surrounding barangay was refreshing especially if you do it early in the morning. Aside from its natural beauty, the NBP Compound and its surroundings are also part of our history especially during WWII.

Muntinlupa is more than just Ayala Alabang. It is called “Gateway to Calabarzon” and “Emerald City” because of the many green patches in the city. Go out and take a walk at the NBP’s surrounding environment and proudly say you went “labas.”

Thank you Bien Bacarra for accompanying and guiding me and fellow visitor Joseph Bautista in your hometown.

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JP Ordoña (Manilakad) leads Manilakad Walks in Intramuros, Binondo, Quiapo and more. Let him guide you to several walking destinations in Manila. Manilakad (Jing Ordoña) can be reached on Facebook Messenger or through text at 0916-3597888 and Viber (George Ordona) at 0960-6975930.