MAP Insights


When I learned that Sablayan, Mindoro Occidental was the site of the Sablayan Prisons and Penal Farm (SPPF), the Philippines’ largest penal colony with a sprawling 16,190 square meters, I promised myself that I would help, even in some small way, some of the 1,800+ Persons of Deprived Liberty (PDLs) there.

Sablayan is a 1st class municipality in the province of Occidental Mindoro. According to the 2020 census, it has a population of 92,500+ people. It has a total land area of almost 2,200 square kilometers, making it the largest municipality in the nation.

It is providential that the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) established its 21st campus in Sablayan in 2010. It offers bachelor’s programs in Secondary Education, Cooperatives, and Entrepreneurship.

In the course of my Stanford fellowship with the Distinguished Careers Institute, I had the privilege of being part of a course in the Design School (D.School) entitled “Design to Equip Learners in Under Resourced Communities.” With Stanford D.School professors Paul Kim, Laura McBain, and Isabelle Hau, and working with PhD student Alessandra Napoli and Computer Science senior Carina Wing Fung, we posed the typical design HMW (How Might We) question: How Might We enhance the teaching capability of PUP to support the SPPF PDLs?

Two progressive PUP leaders, Vice-President of Campuses Pascualito B. Gatan and Dean of Business and key contact Cindy F. Soliman — agreed to be co-designers to this project.

Empathy interviews are Step 1 of the Stanford Design Process and involve conversations with stakeholders in which the interviewers place themselves “in the shoes of the interviewees.” The design team interviewed Leine S. Alcaraz, the head of PUP-Sablayan; Dr. Arnulfo A. Jacinto, the PUP-Sablayan faculty representative; Felipe S. Balilo, the PUP-Sablayan student representative; Chief Superintendent Robert A. Veneracion, the head of SPPF; and two PDLs.

Next is the “Defining” Step. Teaching activities at PUP-Sablayan for students are managed out of PUP in Sta. Mesa, Manila, while limited teaching activities at SPPF for PDLs are supervised by the Department of Education. Therefore, the design challenge has been defined as: “How do you start to equip the SPPF PDLs with training and education that could lead them to acquire degrees while inside SPPF, and/or life skills prior to their exit from SPPF?”

Then comes the “Ideating” Step. Addressing the design challenge involves answering the HMW question. It was clear from the onset that a sustainable PUP-SPPF partnership would have to be a long-term one. While we have to think big in terms of the opportunities that this collaboration will provide the overall Sablayan community, most especially the students and the PDLs, we do have to start small with immediately doable projects on a pilot basis. This would inform PUP and SPPF of adjustments in the projects, work arrangements, and relationships necessary to ensure robust and sustainable solutions that work.

Based on the premise above, the Design Team brainstormed on ideas and arrived at two initial projects that could be launched within the next six months:

1. Building teaching bandwidth by tapping senior PUP Sablayan students to become teaching assistants in SPPF; and,

2. Designing and conducting Life Skills workshops for PDLs who are about to leave SPPF.

Once these projects are launched, PUP and SPPF could jointly assess the projects on a regular basis.

In the design process, prototypes are models of products or services, made in accordance with customer requirements, to be tested and improved over time.

To build teaching bandwidth in an under-resourced ecosystem, a proposed system map was developed by the design team that involved linking highly qualified and capable senior PUP Sablayan students (aspiring for secondary education degrees) to assist SPPL teachers. It is envisioned that these seniors will eventually teach the courses once they graduate.

As PDLs need to become productive members of society upon their reentry and avoid being recidivists, intervention in the form of a Life Skills Workshop will be conducted within three months of PDL’s scheduled departure from the facility. Key topics — such as managing money, managing oneself, and managing family and community — will be taught, and individualized coaching and counselling sessions will be scheduled.

The above prototypes will be evaluated in a forthcoming visit to Sablayan. During this visit, a PUP-SPPL team will be organized to oversee the pilot implementation of an initial batch of student teaching assistants for an initial six-month period. Lessons will then be gathered, and the solution finalized in accordance with the design process steps. A maiden run of the Life Skills workshop is also planned, and an evaluation of the workshop will be conducted to finalize the design of the workshop’s future runs.

This partnership between PUP-Sablayan and SPPF promises to create a social impact, defined as significant and/or positive changes that solve or at least address social challenges, in the Sablayan community and may well serve as a template for other municipalities and cities in the Philippines.

I am very hopeful that in the Philippines, social innovation — new social practices that aim to meet social needs in a better way jointly curated by private, public and civil society sectors — will thrive and flourish.


Dr. Ramon “Mon” B. Segismundo is a member of the Management Association of the Philippines’ Shared Prosperity Committee. He is a 2023-2024 fellow of the Stanford University Distinguished Careers Institute. He holds a Doctorate in Business Administration from the Singapore Management University. He is the CEO of Singapore-based OneHRX.