The second part of Cebu Daily New’s three-part story on the lives of recovering addicts projects the importance of collaboration among different sectors of society to help junkies change for the better.
In the war on drugs, there can be no shortcuts.
And the Archdiocese of Cebu is prepared to walk through that long road, forging a partnership with barangay officials, the police, and other agencies of government for the rehabilitation of drug surrenderers throughout the city and province of Cebu.
“It’s a question of just simply making the first step. We are doing this not for anything else but for the simple reason that we care. We want to make drug surrenderers feel that they are not left behind,” says Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma.
Last Feb. 21, the country’s biggest archdiocese launched the Cebu Archdiocesan Program for Drug Dependents (CAPDD), replicating two smaller community- and center-based programs that reach out to and help drug dependents overcome their addiction.
“We know very well that even if there is just one drug surrenderer who changes his or her life for the better, there will be great rejoicing in heaven,” adds the 66-year-old prelate.
Fr. Carmelo Diola, chairperson of Dilaab Foundation Inc., says the Catholic Church and other sectors of society just cannot leave drug addicts in misery.
“The opposite of addiction is connection. If we don’t reach out to them, their co-drug addicts will,” he says.
Lack of rehab centers
The Police Regional Office in Central Visayas (PRO-7) has reported that at least 106,980 drug pushers and users have surrendered to the different police stations in the region since Oplan Tokhang was implemented on July 1, 2016.
Tokhang is short for “toktok-hangyo,” a nationwide campaign of the Philippine National Police to warn illegal drug peddlers and users that law enforcers are going after them if they don’t decide to give up the trade.
While a number of them expressed willingness to undergo treatment, there are not enough rehabilitation centers that can accommodate them.
The Philippines only has 45 rehabilitation centers, six of which are located in Cebu. Only up to 5,000 drug addicts can be accommodated by all the rehabilitation centers in the country, prompting the church to create a community-based program to rehabilitate drug users.
“(At least) 60 percent to 70 percent of them are not hard core users. They just use drugs for a reason or two,” reveals Dr. Dino Caing, head of the Department of Health’s noncommunicable disease section in Central Visayas.
He says the government has two drug rehabilitation facilities in the region but both are fully-booked.
The privately-owned centers are likewise in the same situation.
Each patient admitted to government-owned centers pays P10,000 every month, while services in private-owned facilities cost from P40,000 to P60,000 a month.
101 percent support
Chief Supt. Noli Taliño, PRO-7 director, welcomes the Archdiocese’s efforts to save drug addicts.
“PRO-7 gives the archdiocese its 101 percent support in this endeavor. Illegal drug is the mother of all crimes, and we know the enormity of the problem that haunts, not just law enforcers, but all of us,” he said.
Taliño reveals that several drug surrenderers have returned to their old ways because there was no clear program to rehabilitate them.
“The Philippine National Police has no capability to undertake drug rehabilitation for surrenderers, and many of them just go back to what they used to do because nothing happened to them. I think the time has come for us to unite in order to help drug dependents,” he adds. “I hope the Church, in coordination with other sectors, will continue to journey with people who fell prey to illegal drugs.”
Eight months ago, when President Rodrigo Duterte took office and launched a war against drugs, thousands of drug peddlers and users trooped to different police stations to surrender. It was only then that the public got to understand the enormity of the problem.
This prompted Diola to sit down with barangay officials of Subangdaku in Mandaue City and for them to formulate a drug rehabilitation program.
Without knowing where it would lead them, the group created”’Lahat Bangon” or Labang (to cross over) — a six-month community-based drug rehabilitation and recovery program to accompany drug dependents in their journey towards renewal.
“Tell me what other option can we do. We just could not leave these people (drug addicts) at their current situation. We cannot do otherwise. We have to do something,” says Diola, who has since been looking for donors to finance the program alongside the contributions from the government.
Twenty-five drug addicts formed the first batch of surrenderers who took part in the Labang program, which consists of four phases: evaluation, psychosocial capability building, livelihood training, and reintegration to society.
Drug dependents are assessed to determine the kind of intervention they needed, enlisting in drug rehabilitation centers for those who need extensive treatment.
Those who don’t need to be placed in rehab centers can avail of the program for free. They undergo daily interventions that include proper hygiene management and sanitation, personal counseling, and spiritual transformation. Volunteers and psychiatrists from the Magone Home of the Salesians of Don Bosco assist the Archdiocese in the program.
Surrenderers also take part in the Lectio Divina or divine reading, a traditional practice of scriptural reading, meditation and prayer intended to promote communion with God and to increase one’s knowledge of God’s Word.
“The first step of renewal is admitting your powerlessness; that life has become unmanageable. The person must recognize a higher power that can help him or her overcome their addiction,” says Diola.
Diola recalls that when he first met the surrenderers, they were unkempt, unfocused, mumbled their words, and feared even their own shadows.
Six months after, the changes are hard to ignore.
“It’s as if we’re cooking something over slow fire here, but that is the right process. We have to be patient. There can be no shortcuts. We made an experiment, and it worked. I have seen their transformation, and I will bet my bottom dollar to prove it,” he adds.
Evil of drugs
Diola and Dilaab Foundation Inc. have actually been campaigning against illegal drugs since the early 2000s, battling the community’s apathy and the failure of the justice system to respond to the growing crisis.
“In a larger sense, illegal drugs have become a dominant reality due to the failure of all sectors to come together. Back then, it was very lonely fight. Now, the picture has completely changed. Those in illegal drugs are on the defensive,” the priest said.
And why is there just so many drug users?
“Many of them are broken. They use drugs to escape pains and loneliness. They thought of drugs as substitute of happiness,” Diola opines.
“How many of them were abused as children, experienced rejection, and even those who were just curious or swayed by friends manifest a certain longing to belong to someone and to be happy?” he adds.
Diola also believes that drug abuse is but a manifestation of the person’s not finding God in his or her life.
“All of us are wired to God. Only God can satisfy us. Our deepest satisfaction is our relationship with God. Some thought they can find real happiness and satisfaction in using drugs. They are actually looking for God in the wrong place,” he says.
Collaboration is key
For the fight against drugs to succeed, Diola says all sectors must come together.
“We need to transition from ‘Tokhang’ to ‘Labang.’ The Church and state need to exchange gifts. The government has the resources and mandate. On the other hand, the Church has volunteers, the sacred instruments, and certain resources. What the Church lacks, the state provides,” he says.
Subangdaku Barangay Captain Ernie Manatad agrees that collaboration makes any burden light.
“We just can’t solve the problem on illegal drugs by ourselves. We need to help one another. Expect this partnership between the Church and government to continue,” he says.
In Cebu’s northern town of Liloan, Catholic charismatic movement leader Fe Barino also introduced a 10-day intensive seminar for drug users. Since July, at least 300 drug surrenderes have successfully completed the Surrender to God program and are monitored on a regular basis so they will not revert to drug use.
“Drug dependents are not inanimate machines that can be fixed within a specific period of time. Rehabilitation is a continuing journey. We have just begun. The key is pastoral accompaniment, persistent love, and solidarity in action,” Diola adds.
He appeals to the public not to count out drug addicts and to instead give them a chance.
“You know what? Recovering addicts are the most compassionate, merciful, loving people that I have met. They know what it is to be on the outside, to be rejected. I am not saying that they are the most perfect. They are capable of changing themselves.”