“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
– Nelson Mandela, South Africa President 1994-1999
In as much as education cannot be caged or taken away, we all have the right to have it.
I am Kenneth Macaldo Apatay, 25 years old, born on December 27, 1995. I was raised by my mother who was a manicurist at that time. I don’t have any solid memory of my father since he died when I was still young.
Nakahanap ng bagong pag-ibig ang aking ina, hindi nagtagal ay nagpakasal sila at nagbunga ng lima pang mga supling. Nang dahil sa kahirapan, kinailangan kong makitira sa aking tito na mas nakaluluwag sa buhay upang makapag-aral at magkaroon ng mas magandang kinabukasan.
Maganda naman ang itinakbo ng aking pag-aaral at ng aking buhay, hanggang sa dumating ang panahon na napasama ako sa mga maling tao. ‘Di naglaon ay naimpluwensyahan nila akong gumamit ng ipinagbabawal na gamot. Isa ako sa mga naging biktima ng iligal na droga. Yes, I used drugs and became addicted to it.
I will never forget May 25, 2015 because it was the day that I got busted by undercover cops. Unintentionally, I dragged my uncle in the mess even if he didn’t have any idea that I’ve been using illegal drugs. My conscience was killing me and I felt so bad about myself. I kept on asking, “Naging ganun na ba talaga ako ka-adik at kasama na kailangan ko pang humantong sa ganitong sitwasyon? In order for me not to influence others, did I really have to be isolated and caged?” I never imagined that I will be jailed. On June 15, 2015, I was committed to Davao City Jail. I was so depressed, hopeless.
With nothing much to do inside the jail, I was able to reflect. I got closer to God and instead of crying over spilled milk, I started looking at my life from a different perspective. It is really true that in the midst of crisis, opportunity arises.
On my 3rd month of incarceration, the doors of the Alternative Learning System (ALS) of the Department of Education opened to us persons deprived of liberty (PDL). I saw this as an opportunity, a way to continue my education since I was in 3rd year high school when I was busted. Enrolling in ALS was my first step to becoming a better person.
I studied inside the jail for almost a year before taking the Accreditation and Equivalency exam. All our Instructional Managers were eager to teach us and they extended to us their time and patience every day – Monday to Friday – just to help us learn all the lessons. With perseverance, willingness to learn, and the help and support of the Instructional Managers and BJMP, almost all the PDL test takers passed the A&E exam. I also passed even though I was not feeling well because I had chicken pox on the day of the assessment. Upon passing the A&E exam, I finally received my high school diploma in August 2016.
After that, I started dreaming not just for me but for my family in general. Akala ko hanggang doon nalang ang journey ko para sa magandang edukasyon, pero sa tulong muli ng BJMP at ng College Behind Bars, at sa pakikipagtulungan ng University of South Eastern Philippines (USEP), nagtayo sila ng panibagong gusali na laan lamang para sa mga mag-aaral na gustong mag-kolehiyo. Binigyan ng priority ang graduates ng ALS na mag-enroll. The admission process was difficult at kaunti lamang ang nakapasa. Isa po ako sa mga natanggap. As one of the pioneering students, the expectation from the BJMP and our family was high.
With hard work and determination, I am happy to report today that I am in my last year in college, taking up Bachelor’s degree in Computer Technology major in Computer Programming. Indeed, learning is a lifelong process. Being incarcerated, I learned not just academic lessons but also life lessons.
The life lessons will remind me and stop me from becoming a recidivist or what is known in jail colloquially as “balik-bayan” — mga taong pabalik-balik sa bilangguan.
With the skills and competencies I learned in ALS, and now in college, I am preparing myself to be reintegrated in society. It will not be an easy journey because of the stigma that society placed on ex-PDLs.
But we all commit mistakes. And I am proof that if a person is given a second chance to reform; is helped so that he becomes a better person; and is supported so that he can pursue his dreams, an ex-PDL has tremendous potential to become a productive contributor to community and nation building.
Sa ngayon ako ay nangangarap na maging isang Jail Officer balang araw para makatulong ako sa mga PDL na tulad ko na magbago, at magkaroon ng sapat na kaalaman at kakayanan para hindi na muling bumalik sa masamang gawain.
Nais kong maging isang huwaran na hindi dapat gawing hadlang ang kahirapan para maabot mo ang iyong pangarap sa buhay. May ALS ang DepEd, at sa ALS may pag-asa.
Ito ang aking kwento. Kwento ng isang batang minsan nasadlak sa kahirapan at bisyo, nakulong, nag-aral, nagsumikap, nangarap at nagbago.
Maraming salamat po.