Case Study

Fugitive Justice: The Possible Futures of Prison Records from US Colonial Rule in the Philippines

By Benjamin D. Weber
August 2017

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Criminality thus renders fugitive the very criminals that states seek to subsume. They always escape, it would seem; but for this very reason, they are always poised to return in one form or another.

– Vicente Rafael, Figures of Criminality1

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4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 As I write this, the Philippine Department of Justice’s Bureau of Corrections has two major initiatives underway. They are implementing the “first-ever electronic Inmate Management Information System,” part of a nationwide criminal-records program that was a keystone of the outgoing Benigno Aquino administration.2 The Bureau is also preparing to transfer New Bilibid Prison from Muntinlupa City, in the Metro Manila area, to a new site in Laur, Nueva Ecija. After moving over 20,000 prisoners, the government plans to sell the 500-hectare property for commercial development and potentially turn other parts of the former prison site into a tourist attraction.3 These changes come amid reports of current President Rodrigo Duterte’s “tough-on-crime” program, and thousands of extrajudicial killings over the first few months of his war on drugs.4

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Figure 1. Intake Records Storage, New Bilibid Prison. All photos taken by author in 2013 unless otherwise noted.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 The history of mass criminalization, systematic death, and prison expansion looms over another possible transfer: of prison records from the first decade of US colonial rule in the Philippines from 1902-1912. While researching the imperial roots of the US carceral state, I photographed a selection of about 150 historic prison intake records. After visiting the museum at New Bilibid Prison, I asked to see what other historic materials were inside the prison. With access granted by the Bureau of Corrections, I spent a few days with the records, which were stored in an attic above the prison’s Fingerprinting Division. I shared the photographs with Ateneo de Manila University historian Ambeth Ocampo and Philippine National Archives director Victorino Manalo. This began a series of conversations with scholars and archivists that brought me back to Manila in 2015, with support from the Council on Libraries and Information Resources (CLIR) Mellon Fellowship for research in original sources. This endeavor also initiated the process by which we requested permission from the Bureau of Corrections to aid in preserving the records. Archivists from the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) were recently approved to begin working with the Bureau to digitize the records.5

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8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 In this essay, I begin by contextualizing the records, and then I turn to discussing different approaches to reading them. In working with prison records of this sort, methodological issues are inseparable from ethical questions about how the past is used in the present and the future. Archivists are familiar with the weighty task of asking “what kind of past the future should have,” as Terry Cook puts it.6 Yet as “future memory workers,” as Jarrett M. Drake and Jen LaBarbera recently point out, they also have a unique responsibility to confront “who we have been, who we are, and who we would like to be” in ways that promote belonging, social justice, and, indeed, liberation.7 Drawing on recent scholarship from critical prison studies, I conclude by considering the stakes of interpretation: asking, for instance, what it might mean to approach these records from a future in which prisons are obsolete.8 Or, to borrow Allegra M. McLeod’s apt phrase, what it could look like to employ a “prison abolition ethic” in archival studies.9

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 This collection of prison records from the first decade of US colonial rule inside of New Bilibid Prison has yet to be digitized, archived, and made accessible. There are a variety of other historic images from Bilibid Prison during this period that are publicly available, however, including those posted on the Bureau of Justice’s website.10 Photos from US colonial prisons in the Philippines appeared in a range of early-twentieth-century publications, including the Philippine Commission’s reports, books and memories of US colonial officials like Dean C. Worcester and W. Cameron Forbes, and popular US periodicals like Harper’s Magazine. Historian Vicente Rafael’s work on colonial photography, discussed at greater length below, has demonstrated how prison photos, together with other staged images like those in the Philippine Census, were used to try to establish and represent gendered and racial hierarchies in attempts to justify US rule.11 Paul Kramer, Christopher Capozzola, and other scholars have likewise considered how prison photography functioned as a form of colonial power.12 They show, for instance, how anthropologist Daniel Folkmar took photographs of those imprisoned inside Bilibid in 1903 to present ethnic “types” to US and European audiences at the 1904 World’s Fair. Elizabeth Mary Holt, meanwhile, has shown how patriarchal gender logics shaped photographic representations of female colonial subjects beyond prison walls.13

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 If these histories provide ways of critically approaching the visual record, work in archival studies has shown how colonial records structured state power and patterns of enrichment and immiseration, with long-lasting legacies. Consider, for example, Cheryl Beredo’s work on the role of the Bureau of Archives in restructuring land holding; or, the importance of Renato Constantino’s edition of John R. M. Taylor’s Philippine Insurgent Records at the Lopez Memorial Library in Manila, which reclaimed those documents as part of a proud anti-colonial revolutionary tradition.14 As Ricky Punzalan’s work with the digitization and preservation of records from the Culion leprosarium on Palawan Island shows, the central concern for community archives is how to make sense of these colonial histories in postcolonial and modern-day settings in ways that are open and participatory, and driven by the descendants of those most directly affected.15 Thus, collective engagement with the historic prison records inside New Bilibid Prison will not only help to understand the legacies of colonial violence and contemporary workings of state power, but may also help repair the lives of its many victims.

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Historical Context

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 Approaching prison records like these necessitates contextualization. By 1902, when US officials tried to propagate the fiction that war had ended by declaring the handover from military to civil government, the United States had waged an all-out offensive in the Philippines, leaving as many as two million dead in four years.16 Governor-General William Taft led the Philippine Commission in passing a series of legislation to render abstract claims to sovereignty into actual jurisdiction on the ground. The Sedition and “Bandolerismo” laws of 1902 provided the legal architecture for hunting down and locking up all remaining “insurgents.” These individuals were suddenly reclassified as outlaws instead of anti-colonial freedom fighters.17 Alongside the massive expansion of the prison population in brick-and-mortar facilities like Bilibid Prison, “reconcentration camps,” militarized detention, and ongoing counterinsurgency campaigns led to the deaths of tens of thousands more. Amid this ongoing violence, colonial officials became obsessed with prison administration. The treatment of prisoners became a flashpoint for anti-colonial and anti-imperial critiques of US rule, and was taken as the indicator of the health of “civilization” more generally.

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 On one level, we can see these prison intake records as a technology of colonial rule. They were created to more accurately classify and track colonial subjects. As historians of criminology and empire have shown, identification using anthropometric measurements was developed by Alphonse Bertillon in Paris and used across French, British, and US empires toward the end of the nineteenth century. New methods of fingerprinting were developed by British officials in India and implemented in the US colonial Philippines during the first decade of the twentieth century, with far-reaching consequences.18 Historian Alfred W. McCoy, for example, has documented how the US Military Intelligence Division and Manila Police used Bertillon’s system together with fingerprinting to amass file cards on a much as 70 percent of Manila’s population.19 Spearheaded by Secret Service Bureau detective John W. Green, the police’s Identification Division refined its filing system to allow for ever-more rapid record retrieval, leading one journalist to remark that few criminals escape the “all embracing index.”20 Indeed, these new techniques not only changed what was recorded, but how. As historian Simon A. Cole suggests, Bertillonage’s system of combining anthropometric measurements, photographs, and peculiar marks and scars allowed for the records to be indexed quantitatively rather than alphabetically and translated bodily features into a “universal language” that could be transmitted by telegraph, organized, and accessed at will.21 Yet, along with record keeping’s universalizing tendency came the instantiation of hierarchy based on racialized particularity and elaborated through discourses of criminality.

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 On another level, then, these records can be read as attempts to produce the very criminal subjects they purportedly sought to contain. As scholars like Allan Sekula have argued, the state produced criminal subjects through institutional practices such as the creation of prison intake records, and categories like “prisoner” authorized them to be acted upon in certain ways. The mug shot, in this reading, was instrumental in turning arrestees into convicts by providing visual evidence attesting to their supposed criminality.22 The filing cabinets that held these intake records thus become representative of a form of power that used “visual empiricism, bibliographic rationality, and the authority of the archive” to naturalize its function.23 In this way, they appear merely to record rather than produce.

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 Contextualizing the records alongside other sources from Bilibid at the time of their creation provides additional ways to see how they were used to produce subjects. Warden’s Reports, for instance, reveal how categories inside the prison were operationalized. Not only were prisoners labeled “native/Asiatic” versus “European/American,” they were fed differently according to those groupings. In 1904, for example, the cost per ration of food provided to native/Asiatic prisoners was P0.16, while the cost per ration for European/American prisoners was P0.39.24 By 1911, the Bureau of Prisons proudly reported that they had reduced the cost of maintaining prisoners by 8 percent from the previous year. The cost per ration for European/American prisoners was now P0.34, while that of native/Asiatic prisoners was P0.13.25 Furthermore, these categories not only affected the quantity and cost of rations inside Bilibid, but also the type. That same year, an Executive Order was passed prohibiting the use of “polished rice” in government institutions due to “the relationship between a diet too largely composed of such rice and the prevalence of beriberi.”26 Evidently, prison administrators sought disproportionately to suppress the social reproduction of those held in captivity. These reports, therefore, contain not only the traces of how racialized criminal subjects were fashioned discursively, but also how they were quite literally being made materially. Reading the prison intake records “along the archival grain” in this way reveals logics of prison administration, colonial governance, and imperial power.27

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Reading the Records

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 The records also contain intimately personal details and fragments of people’s social worlds. Each card bears the title “Bureau of Prisons, Philippine Islands, Bilibid Prison” at the top and “Form No.33” in the top left corner. The card is double sided. The front has three sections: one for prison number, name, aliases, place of birth, profession, residence, crime, military service, and previous convictions; another for “peculiar marks and scars”; and a space for right thumb, index, medius, and annular fingerprints at the bottom.

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 The back of the card is also divided into three parts. The top has space for bodily measurements of height, curvature, reach, and trunk; cranial measurements of length, width, bi-zyg, and right ear; and left-side measurements of left foot, left medius, left auricular, and left forearm; color of left iris, class, areola, perish, and “pecul” (an abbreviation of peculiar); and, hair and beard, both color and pecul. The middle of the card contains space for frontal and profile photographs, with alphabetic letters—P, E, D, C, U, B, H, G, T—arranged horizontally down the left side, and numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, down the right side. At the bottom of the card are spaces for “Comp.”—including Pig., sang, given age, teeth, pecul., app. age, and weight; for Sundry information; date “Taken at Manila”; name of person taken “by,” and the date and name of the person verifying the record. At the very bottom of the reverse side of each card the numbers 39841-1 are printed.

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 Figure 2. Bertillon Signaletic Prison Intake Record, 1905 (front).

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 Figure 3. Bertillon Signaletic Prison Intake Record, 1905 (back

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32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 Figure 4. Detail of “Peculiar marks and Scars,” Bertillon Record, 1907.

33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 There are many ways to read these records. The name, age, place of birth, and occupation, of course, provide insight into a person’s lived experience. Also included among “peculiar marks and scars” are descriptions of tattoos, which shed light on symbols of personal significance and forms of social belonging. In the above example, for instance, Fausto Morlasa Balomer’s tattoos are described as a “shaded design of a cross” and a “shaded star face” (see Figure 2). Another record of a seventeen-year-old “laborer” from Nueva Ecija, whose name is indecipherably blurry, describes one of his tattoos as an “8 pt. star circl [sic] face in center,” another as a “figure holding a staff in hand,” and a third as “crucifixion.” The iconography of stars appears frequently among the tattoos in the records, usually with five, six, or eight points. The eight-pointed star carried particular political significance, as it was one of the primary symbols of the katipunan revolutionaries who fought against Spanish and US colonial rule.

34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 Figure 5. Flag of the First Philippine Republic, Niak Assembly, 1897. (Philippine Revolution, Wikiwand,”.)

35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 Indeed, katipunan leaders at the Naik Assembly on March 17, 1897, decided on precisely this symbol for the first official flag of the Philippine Republic: an eight-pointed star with a face in the center, or what the intake officer who processed Fausto Balomer described as “shaded star face.” Knowing that these are records of imprisoned members of the katipunan brotherhood therefore changes how other aspects of the record might be interpreted. As Philippine social historian Reynaldo C. Ileto has shown, the spirit of the katipunan was carried forward in revolutionary anti-colonial movements like Felipe Salvador’s Santa Iglesia.28 US secret police reports from the time suggested that the “Salvadorists” were all well armed but kept their weapons hidden and worked as laborers to “dissimulate” their mission.29 Thus, returning to the above two examples with this in mind raises questions about the way in which their documented profession ought to be understood: laborer, anti-colonial freedom fighter, or something else entirely? Using the records to uncover individual and collective stories such as these requires that labels like “criminal” and “prisoner” be set aside.

36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 Although none of the sample of about fifty records of women imprisoned at Bilibid describe tattoos, it is quite likely that many of them were also anti-colonial revolutionaries. It is evident from police reports that US colonial officials were suspiciously tracking new “Virgin Mary’s,” for instance, “who claim charm-working powers and the ability to make their followers bullet-proof.”30 While most of the women were charged with adultery, theft, vagrancy, or parricide, others were convicted of crimes more typically associated with men. Fermina Sañado & Baldemoro, a washerwoman from Albay, for example, was charged with bandolerismo, a law that criminalized forms of group association and was designed to track down “insurgents” after the transfer from military to civil government.

37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 0 Figure 6. Bertillon Signaletic Prison Intake Record, 1905 (front).

38 Leave a comment on paragraph 38 0 Figure 7. Bertillon Signaletic Prison Intake Record, 1905 (back).

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50 Leave a comment on paragraph 50 0 Similarly, while most were described as holding traditionally female occupations—washerwoman, marketwoman, seamstress, dressmaker, weaver, cook—others, like Cornelia Acquino Mananoig and Joaquina Ordoña Sion, appear in the colonial archive as merchants and laborers. These three records also stick out because the intake officer took them to look as old as their stated age, or in Cornelia Acquino Mananoig’s case, two years older. For almost all the other women, the intake officers recorded that they looked at least a few years younger than their given age. Indeed, a quick tally of the total years between “given age” and “app. age” in just this small sample of the much vaster prison archive shows that prison officials seem to have systematically recorded female prisoners’ apparent age as younger than their given age, while male prisoners appeared older. Presumably the categories were created for the purposes of surveillance and identification, but what factors led to such a difference in practice: patriarchal distrust, unfamiliar physiognomy, gender nonconformity, imperial fantasy? In this way, the gendered gaze of colonial prison officials is forever present in these records. Yet, as with criminalized categories like “bandit” or “insurgent,” the issue is how to push past these imperial imaginaries to find the alternative worlds these records may help open.

51 Leave a comment on paragraph 51 0 The records of “European/American” prisoners also carry traces of their lives and symbols of their social belonging. Some tattoos testified to their professions: anchors on a seaman or a forge and anvil on a machinist, for instance. Other records describe tattoos displaying the common signs of US nationalism, such as eagles and flags. Several had tattoos of a “woman in tights.” One record, of John Nicholas, describes a tattoo of an “Indian head” with crossed branches, the letters “J.O.N.,” and an anchor (see Figure 8). Unlike the messianic and anti-colonial symbology that appeared in the records of imprisoned Filipinos, these types of symbols pointed to experience with US wars of conquest, aspirational possession, and sexualized objectification.

52 Leave a comment on paragraph 52 0 Figure 8. Bertillon Signaletic Prison Intake Record, 1908 (front).

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54 Leave a comment on paragraph 54 0 Figure 9. Bertillon Signaletic Prison Intake Record, 1908 (back).

55 Leave a comment on paragraph 55 0 This group of records also attests to the global reach of America’s carceral empire at the time. Even a small sample of about fifty records reveals how the reality of incarceration in practice overflowed the boundaries of categories like “European/American” prisoners in official reports. People like Vasava Singh, born in Sursing India, or Nicolas Spaulding, a.k.a. Nicolas Sploy, a.k.a. Nicolas Poley, from Columbo, Ceylon, in modern-day Sri Lanka, stretched colonial registers, occupying an interstitial space between “native/Asiatic” and “European/American.”

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Stakes of Interpretation

57 Leave a comment on paragraph 57 0 The larger point is that reading these records as sources for information about the past risks reinsribing colonial ways of seeing and an empiricist certainty in facts. As a methodological pursuit, this raises ethical questions. Some aspects of these records can indeed be used by scholars, descendants, and the public to tell stories about the past that extend far beyond what the records’ creators ever intended or even imagined. These records can likewise be used to denaturalize the operative categories of colonial prisons in ways that subvert their original purpose and go some way to counteracting it. Yet, reading imprisoned bodies through the records also recalls what anthropologist Ann Laura Stoler recently referred to as the “intimate violence and humiliation of forcible bodily exposure at prisons, check points, and immigration stations.”31

58 Leave a comment on paragraph 58 0 Indeed, critical prison studies scholars like Angela Davis have long warned that prison inspections not be seen as “routine” but rather denounced as forms of sexual assault.32 The descendants of the deceased subjects of these records are impacted most directly by these ethics of exposure. Does using the records to tell untold stories or to name colonial practices of mass incarceration as racist, misogynist, and illegitimate outweigh the possible stigma or embarrassment of having an ancestor that was sent to prison? Questions like these are why the most important interpretation of these records will take place through the collective dialog of descendants and the wider public once they are digitized and made available.

59 Leave a comment on paragraph 59 0 Rather than reading individual records, then, another way of approaching them is to ask how we might understand their existence as an archive. Studies of colonial violence, trauma, and genocide provide one such framework. The “suspended apocalypse” of racial genocide, as the ethnic studies scholar Dylan Rodríguez has explained, is not only based in the “essential relation of death and unfathomable violence,” but the “ongoing historical encounter with the colonial state.”33 Following Rodríguez, the collection of prison intake records might be seen as evidence of the US white-supremacist state’s “militarized denotation of Filipino life.”34 His theorization of the US prison regime’s roots in chattel slavery and colonial violence, furthermore, provides a way to place these prison records in comparative genealogies of genocide.35 In addition to American Indian activists, African American groups have long critiqued the genocidal logic of US statecraft when it comes to practices of incarceration. William Paterson and the Civil Rights Congress, for example, cited jail cells and chain gangs alongside mass murder, institutionalized oppression, and persistent slaughter in the list of grievances contained in We Charge Genocide, their 1951 petition to the United Nations.36

60 Leave a comment on paragraph 60 0 The issue of prison records attesting to mass murder is at the forefront of other comparative examples as well. Archival studies scholar Michelle Caswell’s recent study of Tuol Sleng prison mug shots from the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, for instance, suggests that the visual record of over five thousand photos of prisoners before they were executed not only has the capacity to shock, but also to become a “touchstone” for sparking memories, bearing witness, and telling stories about the regime.37 For the Bilibid prison records from US colonial rule in the Philippines, the comparison evokes questions about the relationship between mass executions and the more elastic temporality of the US prison regime’s exterminationist logic. New scholarship on modes of confinement in US empire raises additional opportunities for comparisons to records from other spaces of detention and torture beyond the prison itself.38 As Kirsten Weld’s study of Guatemala’s secret police records shows, beginning to answer these questions requires a collaborative and ethnographic approach to these “terror archives.”39 If the renewed inquiry into colonial violence in British imperial history is any indication, interpreting archives will continue to shape the future of these pursuits.40

61 Leave a comment on paragraph 61 0 These types of approaches in archival theory also close the gap between past and present. According to the “records continuum model” that Michelle Caswell applies to the Toul Sleng prison mug shots—beyond appraising, arranging, describing, and preserving as a linear process—is another process of continual recontextualizing; that is, the layers of meaning beyond the immediate context of the records’ creation are inseparably present and ongoing. In Cambodia, for instance, survivors, victims’ families, archivists, scholars, and tourists are all co-creators of these layers of narrative, witnessing, and protest. According to this method, the subjects and their descendants as well as the creators of the record become an integral part of its provenance.41

62 Leave a comment on paragraph 62 0 Applying this method to the Bilibid prison records means acknowledging the layers of interpretation and recontextualization already created by photographing and discussing them with colleagues. Historian Ambeth Ocampo, for example, added a layer by immediately suggesting we compare them to the cranial measurements of Pinoys contained in the anthropological cards in the Smithsonian’s collection.42 Philippine National Archives Director Victornio Manalo added another by proposing that the prison records be read alongside those of other carceral institutions at the time, such as the Culion Leper Colony on Palawan Island.43 Subsequent conversations with Vicente Rafael at the University of Washington, Filomeno Aguilar and Francis Gealogo at Ateneo de Manila University, and Ging Gutierrez and Aaron Mallari at the University of the Philippines added additional layers. Meanwhile, the proposal for transferring and preserving the prison records made its way to Dr. Maris Diokno, Chair of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, who has since received approval from the Department of Justice for the NHCP Archivist to digitize them.

63 Leave a comment on paragraph 63 0 As the digitization gets under way, I want to return to the question of what might be done with these records. They can be used to uncover “hidden histories,” create new narratives about US colonial rule, understand forms of carceral violence, and expose atrocity.44 Yet critical trauma studies scholars like Maurice Stevens urge that we move beyond “memory or forgetting” as the dominant mode of history-making, arguing that “we can no longer be invested in merely conveying ideas.”45 In part, he is speaking of the need to shift investments to a more embodied and politically contentious experience of engaging in strategies of healing, memorialization, and protest. For many, the opposite of erasure is not just remembering, as both Maurice Stevens and Michelle Caswell have argued, but justice. But, can prison records that were used to alienate and exterminate be usefully reactivated to critically confront, subvert, and survive ongoing forms of alienation that were used to naturalize violence in the first place?

64 Leave a comment on paragraph 64 0 Critical prison studies scholars and activists like Angela Davis, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, and Dylan Rodríguez have long been making connections between slavery, settler-colonial genocide, imperial expansion, and prisons. They also lift up prison abolition as the only viable strategy for the future. Davis’s position is straightforward: if we do not want to live in a world governed by racism, and if the prison system is demonstrated to be, and has always been, thoroughly racist; and if the progressive reforms of the past are shown to have had devastating, if sometimes unintended, consequences; and, further, if abolitionism in the past has proven to achieve positive results in the case of slavery, lynching, and racial segregation, then, it becomes possible to imagine a world without prisons.46 At its core, the prison abolitionist position is based on the moral imperative against putting human beings in cages.

65 Leave a comment on paragraph 65 0 Seen from this perspective, the Bilibid prison records become traces of torture, far from figures of bureaucratic intrigue. While it is clear that crimes like adultery no longer carry the punishments they once did, the belief that surely there were “bad people” who deserved to be locked up persists. In fact, Bertillon’s system was originally intended to classify first-time offenders from those recidivists who were thought to be, by nature, criminal. Embedded in this search to identify “habitual criminals” was the desire in early-twentieth-century criminology and penology to distinguish the redeemable from the irredeemable subject. Applying that same logic to the collection of prison records creates an untenable hierarchy of blame. If it is easy for most to agree that a washerwoman should not have been put in a cage for adultery, as was the case with several of these records, where is the bright-line for determining who does deserve to be caged? As Ruth Wilson Gilmore has explained, this form of selective exoneration reinscribes the notion that some people do deserve to be locked in cages, and the task lies only in better determining who those people are.47 This leaves the underlying logic of retributive punishment intact.

66 Leave a comment on paragraph 66 0 Admonishing the reluctance to engage seriously with an abolitionist framework as a “failure of moral, legal, and political imagination,” Allegra McLeod has recently pushed for an “abolitionist ethic” in legal studies.48 The Bilibid prison records offer an opportunity to extend a similar approach into archival theory. Consider how plantation records took on an entirely different significance after slavery was formally abolished. If archive-building was a crucial part of empire-building in the Philippines, as archival studies scholar Cheryl Beredo has demonstrated, then critical approaches promise to be part of its undoing.49 Already embedded in the prison abolitionist framework is an analysis of the relationship between imperialism and incarceration. The question then becomes how archival studies might help reverse the process of normalization by which “imperial conquest,” to draw on Cheryl Beredo’s phrasing, was transfigured into matters of “routine business.”50

67 Leave a comment on paragraph 67 0 Beginning to answer this question has a lot to do with our relationship to time. Following Ann Stoler’s suggestion that the concept of “recursive temporalities,” which fold back on themselves, is more attentive to the ways colonial histories remain present, it is possible to understand “reactivations” of colonial pasts as being “mobilized in present political acts,” for what might have been and what still might be.51 Writing on the history of colonial photography, Vicente Rafael makes a similar point. Photos of the dead from the Philippine-American War “relay a past that cannot be assimilated into the present.… [T]heir status vis-á-vis the living remains in doubt. This is the source of their horror.”52 Read as an attempt to “certify mastery over death” in the face of frustrations at the illusiveness of guerrilla warfare, Rafael interprets images of the war dead within the context of the “ruthlessly voyeuristic technology of subjugation” that is the photographic archive of US colonial rule. Viewed in this way, photographs of the imprisoned might also be understood as a form of “unassimilable memory” in that they “recall the trauma at the core of empire.”53 Yet, he refers to the images of corpses as “undead” because of the way they bring the past into the present, suggesting that they carry with them an alternate temporality: a “future anterior” insistently proclaiming “this will have been.”54 If archival appraisal is an act of future remembering, then it is not only possible but essential to begin thinking from a time in which prisons are obsolete.

68 Leave a comment on paragraph 68 0 Writing from the United States, where more black men are currently under correctional control than were enslaved in 1850, and women of color are experiencing the fastest growing incarceration rates, it is urgently necessary to find new ways of fighting the violent alienation and extermination of America’s carceral empire—locally and globally, in the past, present, and future.55 In the US context, naming certain practices as vestiges of the way prisons grew up in empire not only denaturalizes them but also opens space for more robust anti-war, anti-torture, and anti-prison movements.

69 Leave a comment on paragraph 69 0 In the Philippines, these prison records might be used to uncover hidden stories but also to indict the long legacies and current realities of the carceral practices of the US state’s imperial reach. This may be aided, to invoke this essay’s epigraph, by “criminality’s fugitives, poised to return” not as objects of state surveillance and violence but as lightning rods for protesting the violence of mass criminalization, from Spanish and US colonialism, through martial law, to today. These records may open old wounds for some descendants, but the collaborative process of interrogating who actually lived, and lives, behind the dehumanizing label of “criminal” could open new avenues for collective healing.

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  2. Vicente Rafael, ed., Figures of Criminality in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Colonial Vietnam (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999), 22. []
  3. Republic of the Philippines Department go Justice, “DOJ-BuCor Launch Biometric-Based Prison Records System,” September 10, 2015, See also, “DOJ-BuCor Launches Biometric Prison Records System,” The Mindanao Daily Mirror, September 11, 2015, []
  4. Delon Porcalla, “Noy Ok’s Bilibid’s Transfer to Nueva Ecija,” The Philippine Star, April 15, 2016,; Anselmo Roque and Kristine Felisse Mangunay, “Bilibid Moving to Ecija; Old Site soon a Commercial Area,” Inquirer Central Luzon, Philippine Daily Inquirer, November 19, 2014, []
  5. See, for example, Rishi Iyengar, “The Killing Time: Inside Philippine President Duterte’s War on Drugs,” Time, August 25, 2016,; Associated Press, “Philippines Drug Crackdown Prompts Warning from ICC,” The Guardian, October 14, 2016, []
  6. Dr. Maria Serena Diokno, email correspondence, October 28, 2016. []
  7. Terry Cook, “Remembering the Future: Appraisal of Records and the Role of Archives in Constructing Social Memory,” in Archives, Documentation, and Institutions of Social Memory, ed. Francis X. Bloudin and William G. Rosenberg (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2006), 169. []
  8. Jarrett M. Drake and Jen LaBarbera, “Liberatory Archives: Toward Belonging and Believing,” Keynote Address, Community Archives Forum at the University of California, Los Angeles, October 21, 2016, []
  9. Angela Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete? (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2003; 2005). []
  10. See Allegra M. McLeod, “Prison Abolition and Grounded Justice,” 62 UCLA L. Rev. 1156 (2015): 1158-1239, in which she proposes that a prison abolition ethic be applied in legal studies. []
  11. Bureau of Corrections, Old Photo Gallery,, accessed November 5, 2016. []
  12. Vicente L. Rafael, “The Undead: Notes on Photography in the Philippines, 1898-1920s,” in White Love and Other Events in Filipino History (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000). []
  13. Christopher Capozzola, Photography and Power in the Colonial Philippines, MIT Visualizing Cultures (Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2014), Ch.2, 15,, accessed November 5, 2016; Paul Kramer, The Blood of Government: Race, Empire, the United States, and the Philippines (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2006). Capozzola and Kramer have both discussed prison images alongside other photographs of imperial war-making and torture. See Paul Kramer, “The Water Cure: Debating Torture and Counterinsurgency—a Century Ago,” The New Yorker, February 25, 2008, []
  14. Elizabeth Mary Holt, Colonizing Filipinas: Nineteenth-Century Representations of the Philippines in Western Historiography (Quezon City, Phil.: Ateneo de Manila University Press 2002). []
  15. Cheryl Beredo, Import of the Archive: U.S. Colonial Rule of the Philippines and the Making of American Archival History (Sacramento, CA: Litwin Books, 2013), 30; Renato Constantino, “Introduction,” in The Philippine Insurrection against the United States: A Compilation of Documents with Notes and Introduction, ed. John R.M. Taylor (Pasig City: Eugenio Lopez Foundation, 1971). []
  16. Ricky Punzalan, curator, Culion Leprosy Colony exhibit,, accessed November 5, 2016; Punzalan, Research,, accessed November 5, 2016. See also Culion Museum and Archives,, accessed November 5, 2016. []
  17. Dylan Rodríguez estimates the death toll to be anywhere from 200,000 to 2,000,000,000. See Rodríguez, “A Million Deaths?” Genocide and the Filipino-American Condition of Possibility,” in Positively No Filipinos Allowed: Building Communities and Discourse, ed. Antonio T. Tiongson, Jr., et al. (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2006); Rodríguez, Ch.3 in Suspended Apocalypse, 98-149. See also US Senate Committee, Senate Document 331: Hearings on Affairs in the Philippine Islands, 3 vols. (Washington, DC: GPO, 1903). []
  18. These laws, as Reynaldo Ileto puts it, made revolutionaries into “bad men” and “bandits” as if overnight. Ileto, Payson and Revolution, 172. As an indication of scale, Attorney General Ignacio Villamore reports on some 36,793 cases of “bandolerismo” in Criminality in the Philippine Islands, 1903-1908 (Manila, Phil.: Bureau of Printing, 1909). []
  19. See Simon A. Cole, Suspect Identities: A History of Fingerprinting and Criminal Identification (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002). []
  20. McCoy, Policing America’s Empire, 28, 73-4. []
  21. Ibid., 73. []
  22. Cole, Suspect Identities, 48. []
  23. Allan Sekula, “The Traffic in Photographs,” Art Journal 41, no. 1 (Spring 1981): 15-25; Allan Sekula, “The Body and the Archive,” October 39 (Winter 1986): 3-63. See also Michelle Caswell, Archiving the Unspeakable: Silence, Memory, and the Photographic Record in Cambodia (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2014). []
  24. Ibid. []
  25. Sixth Annual Report of the Philippine Commission (Washington: GPO, 1905), 324-5. []
  26. Report of the Philippine Commission (Washington, GPO:1911), 175. []
  27. Ibid., 64. []
  28. See, Ann Laura Stoler, Along the Archival Grain: Epistemic Anxieties and Colonial Common Sense (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010). []
  29. See, Ileto, Pasyon and Revolution, 209-48. []
  30. “Confidential Report,” March 3, 1910, 1-7, Roll 6 (Philippine Constabulary Reports) of the Harry Hill Bandholtz Papers, Michigan Historical Collections, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan, p. 2. []
  31. Luke E. Wright, “Report of the Secretary of Commerce and Police,” in Annual Report of the Philippine Commission 1903 (Washington, GPO: 1904), 613. []
  32. Ann Laura Stoler, Duress: Imperial Durabilities in Our Times (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016), 16. []
  33. Angela Davis, “How Gender Structures the Prison System,” in Are Prisons Obsolete? 60-79. []
  34. Dylan Rodríguez, Suspended Apocalypse: White Supremacy, Genocide, and the Filipino Condition (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009), 105, 11. Another way he puts it is, “There is no ‘prior to’ or ‘outside of’ colonial dominance, genocidal conquest, and neocolonial rule for the putative Filipino subject” (5). []
  35. Rodríguez, Suspended Apocalypse, 11. []
  36. Ibid., 108-49; see also, Dylan Rodríguez, Forced Passages: Imprisoned Radical Intellectuals and the U.S. Prison (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005). []
  37. Rodríguez, Suspended Apocalypse, 113. []
  38. Caswell, Archiving the Unspeakable, 23. []
  39. Khalili, Time in the Shadows. []
  40. Kirsten Weld, Paper Cadavers: The Archives of Dictatorship in Guatemala (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014). []
  41. Caroline Elkins, “Looking Beyond the Mau Mau: Archiving Violence in the Era of Decolonization,” AHR Roundtable, June 2015. []
  42. Caswell, Archiving the Unspeakable, 7, 21. For the “continuum model” Caswell draws on the work of Frank Upward and Sue McKemmish. See Upward, “Modeling the Continuum as Paradigm Shift in Record-keeping and Archiving Processes and Beyond” Records Management Journal (December 2000); McKemmish, “Placing Records Continuum Theory and Practice,” Archival Science I (2001). On the “pluralist” methodology see Jeanette Bastian, “Reading Colonial Records through an Archival Lens: The Provenance of Place, Space, and Creation,” Archival Science 6 (2006). []
  43. Ambeth Ocampo, email correspondence, June 23, 2013. []
  44. Ino Manalo, email correspondence, June 30, 2013. []
  45. See, for example, Emily Epstein Landau’s online exhibit, Hidden From History: Unknown New Orleanians, of mug shots from the City Archives, inside the New Orleans Public Library,, accessed October 15, 2016. See also, The Killing Fields Museum of Cambodia,, accessed October 15, 2016. []
  46. Maurice E. Stevens, “Trauma Is as Trauma Does: The Politics of Affect in Catastrophic Times,” in Critical Trauma Studies, ed. Monica J. Casper and Eric H.R. Wertheimer (New York: New York University Press, 2016), 21-22. []
  47. Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete? []
  48. Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Scope of Slavery: Enduring Geographies of American Bondage conference keynote, Harvard University, November 7, 2014. []
  49. McLeod, “Prison Abolition and Grounded Justice,” 1156. []
  50. Beredo, Import of the Archive. []
  51. Ibid., 13. []
  52. Stoler, Duress, 24-26, 32. []
  53. Rafael, “The Undead,” 91. []
  54. Ibid. []
  55. Ibid., 102. Another way to think about this is as what Lisa Lowe has termed the “past conditional” temporality. See, Lowe, The Intimacies of Four Continents (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015). []
  56. See Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New York: The New Press, 2010; 2012), 179 and 288, n.7; Nsenga Burton, “More Black Men in Prison Today Than Enslaved in 1850,” The Root, March 30, 2011; Rodríguez, Suspended Apocalypse, 146. []

Fugitive Justice: The Possible Futures of Prison Records from US Colonial Rule in the Philippines

Benjamin D. Weber

Mellon/ACLS Postdoctoral Fellow – Vera Institute of Justice, New Orleans

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