At the launching of “Earth Hour 2010” at the University of the Cordilleras, regional information director Helen Tibaldo, who served as master of ceremonies, asked me to announce the local media’s collective commitment to the annual energy-saving switch off evening of March 27.

Initially, I expressed the commitment of some 500 or so souls populating “Barangay Pag-asa”, which, I said, is not among the city’s 128 barangays.

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“Barangay Pag-asa”, as explained, is how prisoners call the city jail where, in elections last year so clean, honest and peaceful, they chose their “barangay captain” and “kagawads”.

A news item Monday on the pledge on behalf of the prisoners who could not make it to the launching erroneously pointed out I’m a resident of “Barangay Pag asa”.

What’s right in the report is that the inmates gave two hours, instead of the one hour asked in last year’s “Earth Hour”. Perhaps it was a first in our nation’s prison history.

That clarified, I announced the prisoners will commit this year three hours of self-imposed darkness, in response to the call for an hour, from 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., to drum up support for energy conservation as a means of combating global warming.

As in last year, “Earth Hour Inside” will have Baguio folksingers the likes of lawyer Bubut Olarte belting out hopes, dreams and heartaches through their music piercing the darkness and quiet of the courtyard to the “seldas.”

For them to have a glimpse of the visiting performers, the inmates will open with candle prayer to the tune of Enya’s “the Memory of Trees.”

Fellow aging columnist March Fianza will sing. So will Northern Philippine Times editor Alfred Dizon, he who wants to find out if the cells remain occupied the moment jail warden, Supt. Rebecca Pawid orders the lights back on again at 9:30 p.m.

My gut feel is the plaintive music will be soothing enough to hold back any attempt at a Houdini act that would make the guards doubt whether to allow another “Earth Hour” inside next year.

That’s hardly a worry for Paul, a “kagawad” of Barangay Pag-asa whose irrepressible humor makes him suspect to be an Ifugao even if he’s not.

On their program marking “Earth Day” last year, he explained why they also practice waste segregation and recycling. “We’re worried that the world would become so dirty they would transfer the city jail to the moon,” he quipped.

For “World Environment Day” last year, they had Noelle Sanidad, then at the 11th grade at Brent School, as their guest of honor and speaker.

“I wish you all do not stop in building a better environment, because many of us should look up to all of you as role models in society because of what you all have done,” Noelle told them.

“I have also learned that you all create various crafts out of recycled materials and paint about the environment,” she noted. “Creating something beautiful from something a normal person would merely throw away is definitely an achievement.”

She made them feel needed. So did Pablito Sanidad, her lawyer-father and former national chair of the Free Legal Assistance Group. As he did some 10 years back as a human rights lawyer, Sanidad last year asked the Comelec to go to jail and register inmates deemed innocent until the resolution of their cases so they could be escorted out to vote in the May 10 national and local elections.

Brent School recently delivered four computer units so the inmates can encode their poems, prayers and articles for the second issue of their newsletter.

Perhaps the first-ever in-house publication for and by inmates in the country, if not in the world, the newsletter has been dubbed “The Insider”.

The publication is, perhaps, the first of its kind. It provides the outlet for self-expression and answers the need to document the jail guards’ push for prison reform, not only from their view but from the perspective of those seeking transformation.

“Freedom is a human need,” the maiden issue’s editorial noted. “Self-expression is the exercise of that freedom, of that human need. Freedom is the reason for this humble beginning – behind bars.

“We dubbed (the newsletter) “The Baguio Insider”. Pun or no pun intended, it evokes humor, another need that makes us human, whatever side of the wall we’re in or on.”

Atty. Sanidad is rallying support for the printing of the second issue. Donors may take the cue from the Benguet Electric Cooperative which, after last year’s “Earth Hour”, delivered a P5,000 check for the inmates’ projects.

I may not be a resident of Barangay Pag-asa, but it’s fulfilling to be there sometimes. Manang Cristy Dicang, a catechist and quiet woman of substance, has been there for the past 39 years, to listen to the prisoners’ voices and to help them out.

It’s an honor to be in the staff box of “The Insider”, as “consultant-at-large.” It’s that because, as Atty. Sanidad explained, I haven’t been arrested yet.

See you in jail during this year’s Earth Hour. The inmates wouldlove to see you, but reservations have to be made with warden Pawid. Admission is free, on a first-come, first-in basis. She’s worried too many visitors might muddle the guards’ ability to distinguish you from bona fide residents of “Barangay Pag-asa”. (e-mail: mondaxbench@yahoo.com for comments).