Live From Manila’s New Bilibid Prison

Prisons in the Philippines know how to have fun. Back in 2007 the inmates of Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center made headlines dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” Now inmates at the New Bilibid Prison in Manila have put on their first public show, belting out Broadway tunes and love songs.

The 100-member Bureau of Corrections Grand Orchestra and Chorale performed Tuesday inside Manila’s maximum security penitentiary, singing in their local Tagalog language for prison officials, relatives and media.

Tuesday’s show included a solo performance of “New York, New York,” backed by the orchestra and accompanied by dancing women inmates in top hats and coattails. The orchestra does not have a full string section but does feature a number of brass and woodwind instruments.

Photo: AP Photo

Many of the orchestra’s inmates are serving life sentences for murder and other major crimes.

Bureau of Corrections Director Oscar Calderon said that prison officials hope the music can be used to help inmates “remove their criminal minds, soften up their feelings.”

Warren Zingapan, an inmate who organized the performance, was sentenced to life in prison for murder related to a killing at a fraternity rumble.

He spoke for the symphony in saying that the power of music can provide strength to those who spend their days behind bars.

“Just by that alone … it is as if they are free,” said Zingapan.

Photo: AP Photo

Police sharpshooters stood guard during the performance but for the most part security was low-key. Inmates were led back to their cells after the show.

Saxophone player Rey Matias, a 45-year-old inmate serving a life sentence for murder, says he’s grateful to be a part of the band.

“When the band was put up, it put color and perked up our days,” he said. “Even a prisoner can be proud of something.”

Click here for the AP story.