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Jailhouse Rock: Cebu’s Dancing Prisoners

September 28th, 2009 by

Time Magazine named it the 5th most popular viral video of all time. More than 23 million Youtube viewers witnessed hundreds of murderers, rapists and drug addicts in orange jumpsuits shift, twirl, and dance to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, a revisit to the famous group choreography in the music video. They have been featured in the local version of Big Brother as they danced with the housemates, These are the Cebu Dancing Prisoners.

Cebu prisoners

The prisoners are from Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC) in central Philippines, a 1,500-inmate facility. The dancing is the brainchild of Byron Garcia, a security advisor to the Cebu government who wanted to include an exercise regimen. He also began posting set routines of the prisoners online to showcase his program to other rehabilitation centers. Although the first video garnered few hits, the second video, Thriller, went viral. Two inmates in particular, Crisanto Niere and Wenjiel Resane, became internet superstars for acting out the lead parts of the in the short skit as 1,500 fellow prisoners danced in the background, mimicking the zombie steps of Michael Jackson’s ground-breaking music video. Officials have said that it’s not unusual for Filipinos to sing and dance even in the most trying of circumstances, as they love music.

The prisoners have since added a repertoire of two dozen dances, from anime theme songs to movie musicals and 80’s classics, and have performed for government officials and the archbishop of Cebu. A number of them has created a short presentation during the city’s 483rd foundation anniversary, which so moved the attending authorities they included the prisoners during the Christmas bonuses for good behavior. They have also assembled a special program to mark the death of Michael Jackson, whose music video has changed the lives forever. They continue to practice for up to 4 hours a day, and Garcia says this led to a reduction of outbreaks of violence and an increase of health within the prison population. Since April 2008, visitors can also enjoy a 2-hour long performance on certain Saturdays by the inmates in the prison grounds, along the higher corridors. After the program, they can get their photographs taken with the prisoners and buy souvenir prison shirts.

Magellan's Cross

Known as the Queen of the South, Cebu has many other attractions to see. The second largest city in the country posesses its oldest street, called Colon Street, which contains some fine American-era buildings and transforms into a night market as the sun sets. There is also Magellan’s Cross, located just opposite Cebu City Hall. This is the place where Ferdinand Magellan planted the first wooden cross in the country after converting the inhabitants to Christianity. Finally, you can go to Tops, on top of nearby Mount Busay, which offers an unobstructed view of the entire city at night.

There are many international flights that head directly to Cebu, from Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur and the Middle East. You may also take a 20-hour ferry trip from Manila Bay to the city. The best time to visit is on the third week of January, during the Sinulog Festival, the biggest tourist event in Cebu. A feast dedicated to the child Jesus, this lively affair is even by select members of the Cebu prisoners, who perform a special number for the event. To attend a prisoner performance, you must first register at the Provincial Capitol of Cebu at the Governor’s office. The performances is usually scheduled during the last Saturday of the month. A government bus will fetch visitors near the governor’s office at the Capitol and bring them to Barangay Kalunasa, a 10-minute ride. Everything is free, including bus ride and entrance fee.

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