Supporting Filipinas in prison

Sister Anne Dixon (front, second from right) visiting some of the women in prison

Sister Anne Dixon (front, second from right) visiting some of the women in prison

Sister Anne Dixon left Australia nearly four years ago to live and work among some of the poorest people of Bacolod, a highly urbanised city on Negros Island in the Philippines, where a small community of Good Samaritan Sisters has been ministering for the past 26 years. For Anne, it’s been a life-giving experience.

“I love it. There’s nowhere else I want to be,” she told The Good Oil.

“I truly believe that this is where God wants me to be at this time of my life. I have a deep peace and contentment because of this belief and it hasn’t waned at all since I arrived.”

That’s not to say Anne doesn’t find life in the Philippines difficult, frustrating and even disturbing at times. She struggles to speak the local language, Ilonggo, and is frustrated by widespread corruption. But she’s particularly disturbed by the “war on drugs” instigated by the country’s newly-elected President, Rodrigo Duterte, which has resulted in the extrajudicial deaths of over 3,000 people, reportedly by police and vigilante groups. She’s also alarmed that the current political environment is accepted by the majority of Filipinos.

“It’s very worrying, disturbing. Yeah, it’s dreadful,” said Anne.

“I get so angry. I read the papers every day and it’s just lists of people who are being murdered.”

Since the President’s “war on drugs” began, the prison population, nationally, has escalated

Since the President’s “war on drugs” began, the prison population, nationally, has escalated

Since arriving in Bacolod in 2013 Anne has been providing pastoral care and advocacy support for women who are on remand in prison, waiting to have their cases heard in court. She said the majority of inmates at Bacolod’s provincial prison are poor and many have been charged on drug-related offences – a scenario replicated in prisons throughout the country.

Since the President’s “war on drugs” began a few months ago, the prison population, nationally, has escalated, exacerbating an already overstretched and impoverished system.

“The prisons are getting full of people. But then, it’s like they’re the lucky ones, because they’re the ones who haven’t been shot in the street,” explained Anne.

That might be a consolation, but Anne knows prisons in the Philippines are among the worst in the world, largely due to overcrowding and inadequate facilities. Court proceedings are farcically protracted because of a lack of lawyers and judges, but also because the system is overwhelmed with so many cases, she said. Consequently, many people remain in prison for years without having their case heard in court.

“If you’ve got money you can get out on bail, or you can bribe the judges or the lawyers,” she said. “There’s heaps of corruption in the system.”

Anne is currently supporting a woman who has been in prison for almost 13 years. “She hasn’t been to court yet – 13 years,” said an exasperated Anne. “She’s my age, she’s 59!”

Anne is a member of the Santa Maria Iloy Sang Dios Prison Ministry Team

Anne is a member of the Santa Maria Iloy Sang Dios Prison Ministry Team

She has also been supporting another woman who, after three years in prison, recently had her case heard in court and was found not-guilty. Anne was overjoyed, but also frustrated.

“It’s mad, three years of your life gone! And in the meantime, she’s got eight children, and her sister got cancer in that time and she’s dying… It’s very sad. There are just so many stories like that,” she said.

Anne said that if she had not volunteered to drive this woman home to her village about an hour away, she may have remained in jail – just because she couldn’t afford the bus fare home.

Supporting people in prison and their families on the outside is a ministry that’s close to Anne’s heart. Before coming to the Philippines, she spent five years as a chaplain in some of Victoria’s men’s prisons. Anne recognises it’s a ministry that few people want to do, so why does she?

“I see people in prison as the forgotten folk. They are on the bottom of the ladder as far as the ‘care factor’ goes,” she said.

“Unless people have a loved one in jail, or know of someone in jail, the majority of people aren’t interested in these folk who have broken the laws of the land and ‘deserve’ their punishment.

“I guess I don’t really care about what they have allegedly ‘done’. If I really thought about it, I would care, because some of the alleged crimes are heinous, but I’m not there to make judgements.

“I do care greatly about them getting a fair trial, and a speedy trial, and I care about them having someone they can talk with, pray with, learn new skills with and just hang out with. I don’t ‘see’ the alleged crime; I see the person in front of me, and I reckon that’s what Jesus would see.”

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The Good Oil, October 18, 2016. If you would like to republish this article, please contact the editor.

8 Responses to “Supporting Filipinas in prison”

  1. Marie Casamento says:

    Anne I am moved deeply by your compassion for the forgotten ones. Keep up this important ministry and know we support you especially with those whose crimes have led them to be the most despised. Marie Casamento

  2. Anne, good on you! I finished in A and LKK. 18 months ago and yet one never forgets! Some of those men often asked after you. Gone yet not forgotten. G

  3. Terry Clout says:

    Anne,I wish I had your ability not to judge and to see past the actions of people and to see only the person and their needs.Hearing your story helps me to continue to seek this capacity as a realistic goal. Thanks for your work and sharing your approach to community.

  4. Jeanie Heininger says:

    I feel so proud of you Anne as it’s such an important ministry you offer, though frustrated by President Rodrigo Duerte’s “war on drugs”. How could you possibly be 59!

  5. Margaret Keane says:

    Anne,you’re a brave woman and one who lives what you proclaim. thank you for your example.

  6. Michelle says:

    Well done anne you are amazing in stepping out and standing up for the voiceless. As a Good Sam, I’m proud of all you are doing, keep well, michelle

  7. Rosemary Kingsberry says:

    Anne, you are an amazing woman and a true blessing to those you work for and with. We have very fond memories of you from our SMM days. Keep well, stay safe. You are an inspiration at a time when, as a nation, our treatment of refugees, migrants and the marginalised is so appalling and has been for a very long time. We each need to do what we can. Love and prayers from Rosemary, Nev, Megan and the Kingsberry clanx

  8. Carmel Mahoney says:

    Hi Anne, I have read your article with interest and admire your non-judgemental approach of the prisoner as you show respect and care of their dignity as a person. I know we have had discussion around this previously and I share your sentiments. I continue to admire your genuine concern and level of engagement. Blessings as you continue your journey.

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