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A time to dance

First Posted 12:27:00 12/21/2007

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CEBU CITY, Philippines - The 1,500 Cebu prison inmates who danced their way to global fame when their music video ?Thriller? popped up on the website YouTube have landed in Time Magazine?s list of Top Ten most watchable Internet videos of 2007.

?It?s the greatest and sweetest irony,? said an overjoyed Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, who first learned about the list when she was called for comment last night.

Recalling a 1984 prison riot, she said the provincial jail inmates used to be regarded as ?trash and weeds.?

?The group that gave me the biggest crisis in the early part of my administration has become the greatest source of pride and honor not only for Cebu but for the entire country,? she said.

Time magazine placed ?Prison Inmates ?Thriller? Video? no. 5 in a list that includes amateur videos of a teenage fan?s defense of Britney Spears and an attack ad against Hillary Clinton. (See full list on page 35.)

The chosen 10 were considered the most popular ?viral videos? of the year which people ?could not stop watching? in 2007.

Time magazine ran 50 different Top 10 lists covering news, photos, quotes, cartoons and other categories.

Under the category of ?pop culture,? which includes lists for top fashion trends and buzzwords, the international magazine described the Cebu video this way:

?Orange-jumpsuited accused murderers, rapists and drug dealers paid homage to Michael Jackson?s Thriller in a dance performance filmed at the Cebu Detention and Rehabilitation Center in the Philippines. Questions arose about whether the 1,500 Filipino jailhouse rockers were enjoying some well-choreographed creative expression or suffering abuse at the hands of prison officials with MTV aspirations. The only thing certain is that Vincent Price was right when he said, ?No mere mortal can resist the evil of the Thriller?: The video has been downloaded more than 9 million times.?


?What wonderful news for Cebu and the Philippines,? the governor said last night.

Her brother Byron, Capitol consultant on security, first uploaded the video in YouTube on July 18. Two days later it had some 266,000 views. A week later, it had over a million hits.

?This showed that indeed we can turn around a bad situation into something we can actually be proud of. These inmates are not well known personalities in the field of politics or in showbiz,? the governor said.

The ?Thriller? video, she said earlier, showed the inmates in a ?routine practice? for a number they were presenting on Aug. 1, the founding anniversary of Cebu province.

She said dancing has been part of the prisoners? daily exercise under the jail?s rehabilitation program which began in April 2006.

Before that the inmates were a major headache for the Capitol chief executive.

On Dec. 27, 2004, inmates staged a riot at the old CPDRC building along MJ Cuenco to protest their transfer to a new jail in a hilly part of barangay Kalunasan.

The governor vowed it would never happen again. Garcia recalled having to talk to inmates while they lay on the ground in chains.

?I told them nga sukad karon dili na ni ninyo mahimo nako. Dinhi inyong masabtan unsay buot ipasabot og unsay disciplina og mosunod mo sa lagda, systema og pamaagi sa bag-ong CPDRC (starting now, they can?t have their way with me. They would understand the meaning of discipline and follow rules and the system of the new CPDRC),? she said.

Under Byron?s watch, the Capitol experimented with different approaches to penology. This included introducing dancing as part of the rehabilitation program.

?It was a complete turnaround of the biggest crisis we had,? Governor Garcia said.

In a separate interview, Byron said ever since the inmates? dance routines got the attention of the international press, ?they are still in a state of euphoria.?

?They have high morale and have regained their self-esteem.?

Other jails in Quezon province and Muntinlupa have taken the cue and included dancing in their own rehabilitation programs, he pointed out.

This shows ?dancing is not an unusual and a cruel punishment,? said Byron.

?The fact that some are starting to copy our system only goes to show that it is good.?

?We have showed how we turned these negative inmates into positive individuals through our concept of a revolutionized penology. But there are people who would not want to believe that something like this can happen especially in a third world country,? he said.

Last Dec. 14, Governor Garcia was in Manila to present the CPDRC story of jail reforms to a panel of contest judges of the Galing Pook Award.

She described a jail ?? where a culture of discipline has evolved and prevailed. And now our new CPDRC is one of the 19 nominees all of the country for the Gawad Galing Pook Award,? she said.

The award highlights excellent projects and programs that illustrate good governance. Gawad Galing Pook Foundation is part of a global network of institutions that tries to recognize local governments who have shown excellent, creative and productive ways to govern their people

Cebu City is one of the 19 nominees. The entry is the city's barangay justice system. /With Inquirer

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