Friday, August 31, 2007

EDGAR ENIEGO REVISITED

Today is the birthday of one of most inspiring people I have encountered. I got a chance to write about Edgar Eniego for the Philippine Panorama when he was still detained at the Puerto Princesa City Jail. This was back in 2001. Edgar’s life has been written by many others who felt inspired by him. As a tribute to you, dear friend, on your birthday today, I am re-posting my article which appeared on December 31, 2001 in the Philippine Panorama. May it inspire others to face their demons and surmount seemingly insurmountable odds. Happy Birthday!

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A RAY OF LIGHT BEHIND BARS
Rodel Banares
(phil. panorama, dec. 30, 2001)

Within the damp, dark confines of the Puerto Princesa City Jail (PPCJ), a small window allows just enough light to illuminate the room where the rehabilitation officer of the said jail is discussing several programs with Edgar Eniego. Among the programs being discussed are the proposed plans of expanding the Re-Entry Education Agenda for the Poor (REAP) Home Study Program in the PPCJ. REAP is a program conceived by Angelicum College to help out-of-school individuals return to the folds of education free of charge through their unique program.

According to Eniego, contrary to common knowledge that jails are “punitive places reserved for criminals, it is rather a corrective and reformative institution aiming to rehabilitate offenders into productive and law-abiding citizens for their future re-integration to society”. That is the reason his devotion in helping the REAP program spread throughout the PPCJ is that strong for Eniego knows whereof he speaks, himself being a detainee at the PPCJ.

Edgar Eniego was born on August 31, 1976 in Occidental Mindoro to Lamberto Eniego and Araceli Dizon. Edgar’s father died when he was only ten years old due to intestinal cancer. However, despite his family’s financial status, he was able to study and graduate with honors in grade school. In high school, he enrolled at the Sisters of Mary School in Santa Mesa, Manila where he took and passed a scholarship test for indigent students. He graduated from high school in 1993 with an academic excellence award , ranked 7th in his batch, earned his diploma in academics and Citizens Army Training, auto mechanics, electronics, refrigeration and air-conditioning.

In 1995 his third sister died of acute asthma, burdening him with obligation of being the bread winner in the family. But despite the odds, he still had the determination to go to college. So he decided to leave Manila and reside with one of his sisters in Palawan.

He enrolled at the Universal Vocation School where he was elected student council president and graduated valedictorian. In 1997, he enrolled at the Palawan State University where he took up Civil Engineering. Here too, he was recognized for his excellent performance in academics. The following semester, he was offered a scholarship grant from the university.

Fate, however, can play cruel tricks on people. In 1998, his childhood sweetheart from Manila visited him in Palawan and stayed there for a month. To make matters worse, his brother who was living with him suffered a mild stroke, further depleting his savings. A few months later, his sweetheart wrote him a letter saying she was pregnant with his child. He sought financial help from friends and relatives, but received none.

Out of desperation, he did what he thought was last resort. On August 10, 1998, Edgar Eniego attempted to hold-up a passenger jeepney. He failed in his attempt and was caught.

Afraid his relatives would find out, he used a fictitious name which he gave to the police. A day after his arrest, he was committed to the Puerto Princesa City Jail. Eniego, however, did not let his situation get the better of him. “The most important lessons have been learned – not to lose hope at all times, for even in the extreme vicissitudes of life, man has always his freedom to treasure and that there is life as long as you breath, even in the absence of liberty”, he says with conviction.

Today, Edgar Eniego actively participates in all activities being undertaken by the PPCJ and is encouraging his fellow detainees to enroll in the REAP Program. He is quite happy with the fruits of his labor.

“These things were made aware to the detainees”, he says, “and upon seeing the opportunity, they seized the chance and gratefully appreciated the program. Optimistic and enthusiastic, they eagerly move on, anxious to obtain the reward that awaits”.

However, Eniego is first to admit that the road is still long and obstacles will still be encountered. According to him, the biggest challenge still looms ahead. “The race has started but the course must be finished. The obstacle lays intimidating and seemingly insurmountable, but with faith teeming and courage a-plenty, no mountain is immovable”, quips the optimistic youth.

At the end of the day, Edgar Eniego looks wistfully at his surroundings which he has learned, for the time being, to call home. His is a lesson of faith and perseverance. And he leaves a message for his fellow youth:

“The ultimate lesson which I reach out to you – youth of Rizal – never to break any rules even in the direst of circumstances … and that violence must have no place in your heart. Temperance and perseverance will always sustain you. And may not my words but my life and the lives of many a youth whose vigor and dreams have gone wasted in the dull misery of paying the price for past unheeded acts brought by the passion of youth”.