Text by Sheryl Milagrosa
Photos by Romeo Mariano
Inside an orderly kitchen, a team of panaderos can be found dutifully mixing batter, kneading dough, and taking turns in monitoring the oven—all while the aroma of newly baked bread wafts through the air. But unlike the familiar neighborhood pandesalan, this particular bakery operates inside the Malabon City Jail in Barangay Catmon. The panadero-inmates behind each delightful bread try to make their lives more meaningful and productive through baking.
Jake Pianar, one of the pioneer beneficiaries of Malabon City Jail baking program, is among the devoted bakers who saw renewed hope and purpose in life inside prison. Prior to his drug-related arrest, Pianar had worked for four years as a panadero in his aunt’s bakery.
Like any person struggling in the same situation, Pianar saw prison life as unbearably hard, empty, and lonely. That negative assumption changed when the baking program “Pandesal for Life”—initiated by Malabon City’s First Lady, Chef Melissa Sison-Oreta in partnership with culinary school CCA Manila.
Jail officials allocated a spacious baking area to sustain the program and was jumpstarted by Malabon City Mayor Antolin A. Oreta when he donated a brick oven. There, Pianar and fellow inmates were trained by culinary students to bake pandesal, Spanish bread, monay buns, and star bread, among others. Baking tools and ingredients, meanwhile, were provided by the Department of Labor and the City Government of Malabon.
According to J/Insp. Marissa Provido, the bakers, initially composed of female and male inmates, found a calming refuge in the bakery. It also helped in keeping inmates busy so that they keep away from negative activities.
“There’s a big transformation in them. They are not that bored, their outlook in life became more positive and they are now more productive with their time,” she said.
“Nabuhayan po talaga ako ng loob at nagkaroon ng pag-asa,” Pianar said in Filipino. He added that he does not feel that sad anymore ever since he joined the program. Aside from utilizing his skills, he is able to help his family with their expenses from his earnings as a baker.
“Naging kapaki-pakinabang pa din ako kahit na nasa bilangguan ako.”
To date, the bakery employs 10 active inmate panaderos working in two shifts. An average of 400 pieces of bread products are produced daily, mostly sold among inmates, jail personnel, and dalaw (visitors). Bestsellers include putok, pan de coco, buns, banana loaf and brownies.
On certain special events hosted by the city government, the bakery also accepts orders, according to jail warden J/Supt. Jun Melchor Boadilla.
“During the recent fun run, we successfully supplied around 3,500 pandesal for the participants. They are quite pleased with the quality of our breads,” he said. It is widely known that the Mayor loves the pan de coco.
“The panaderos are hardworking. Income generated from the baked goods is encouraging, now amounting P85,000, and still growing.
Apart from helping them provide for their personal necessities and their families outside the correctional, Chef Oreta said the program greatly helped the inmates “cope with the challenges of prison life, to overcome feelings of negativity and lack of self-worth.”
Mayor Oreta agreed: “This gives the inmates a positive outlet. Apart from transformation, it also imparted new skills training which would really be useful should they be finally freed and integrated back into society. The baking program, along with the other livelihood projects, are meant to help inmates who need a second chance and to overcome employment barriers that they will face after leaving prison.”
Apart from breadmaking, Malabon City Jail offers inmates other job-training and income-generating projects. Among these are handicraft making, paper mache, bead crafts and tailoring, among others.
Thanks to all the support coming from both private and government sectors, Pianar said that for the first time in his life, he felt his self-worth rising.
“With my salary here, I am able to save enough for my bail. This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he exclaimed happily.