Philippine crime lord builds music studio in prison, enjoys iTunes success

Crime lord Herbert Colanggo decided he didn't need to wait for his release from prison to put out an album and become a singer. He could just do it from behind bars.

So Colanggo bribed officials to allow him to build a recording studio and have musical privileges.

He was enjoying national fame and growing iTunes success as a lovelorn balladeer under the name "Herbert C" when police cut short his career on Monday.



Authorities conducted a raid on Manila’s Bilibid prison and discovered 20 secret prison villas kept by 20 of the nation’s most notorious robbery, kidnapping and drug kingpins.

Chairman of the watchdog group Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption, Dante Jimenez, said: "We are very angry because they continue to live lives of luxury.

"It’s like they just transferred from one mansion to another."

Colanggo entered Bilibid in 2009 after a near decade-long reign as the leader of a feared bank robbery gang.

He was sentenced to 12 to 14 years in jail.

Ambition of becoming a music star

Bilibid is infamous for overcrowding and the brutal conditions – it was built to accommodate 8,900 inmates but currently houses more than 23,000.

Colanggo was able to quickly buy his way into the privileged world of the prison’s top criminal kingpins, some of whom have previously even been caught leaving the jail for short periods of time.

With lots of time on his hands, he decided to pursue his long-held ambition of becoming a music star, and rebranded himself “Herbert C”.

He had a music studio built inside his prison villa and recorded a 10-song album of syrupy love songs called “Kinabukasan", which means “Future”.

Colanggo, who is believed to be in his late 30s, was picked up by one of the Philippines’ big music labels, Ivory Music and Video, and his first album, released this year, was a chart success.

In one of many clips about his career posted on YouTube and other social media, he appears at a concert in the Bilibid gymnasium where he accepts an Ivory “platinum” record award for selling 15,000 albums.




He also celebrates being voted “best new male recording artist” by a group of entertainment journalists this year, an accolade that garnered mainstream media coverage.

“I’ve always dreamt of becoming a recording artist,” Colanggo, who portrays himself on Facebook as a newly devout and repentant Catholic, told local broadcaster ABS-CBN in a recent jailhouse interview.

“I was raised well. I am a victim who lost his way.”

Colanggo’s album can be bought for US$3.99 (S$5.25) from Apple’s iTunes store, and is also available on the streaming music service Spotify.

AFP contacted Ivory on Thursday (Dec 18) to ask about its relationship with Colanggo, but a staffer who answered the phone said the person in charge of his career was on leave and unavailable for comment.

In the album’s lead single, which like his other songs are posted on YouTube, Colanggo sings in a raspy baritone of the pain of not being able to profess his love to a woman.

The song’s music video was filmed in his prison studio. It has Colanggo, in a long-sleeved Bart Simpson shirt and auburn-tinted shades, sitting on a bar stool and singing, while backed up by a full band.



Bureau of Corrections’ director Ferdinand Bucayu insisted on Thursday he had not known about Colanggo’s music career or special privileges, and pointed the finger at corrupt prison officials.

For the time being, Colanggo and the other crime lords have been removed from Bilibid and taken to a high-security facility of the justice department’s investigation unit.

Mr Bucayu said Colanggo’s studio will be dismantled.

But Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said this week that corruption in Bilibid was institutionalised and she could not immediately sack all the corrupt prison officials.

Which leaves open the possibility of Herbert C or another crime lord doing the jailhouse rock once again.

Source: AFP

Related report:

Drug lords were 'living like kings' in prison 'villas' with strip bars, sex dolls, say Philippines police