At age 10, Loloy (not his real name) was hooked on illegal drugs — a habit that went on for two years.
Aside from using shabu (crystal meth), the preteen boy also delivered prohibited drugs house-to-house, lured into the drug courier world by the promise of easy money from a drug personality in Barangay Duljo Fatima, Cebu City.
“Gusto man ko maka kuwarta aron makapalit ko og mga gamit (I wanted to earn money so I can buy many things),” said Loloy, who was paid at least P100 for every drug errand.
Despite earning money, Loloy, the fourth of five siblings, was not happy as he was exposed to the dangers of the narcotics trade at a young age.
He eventually decided to stop his involvement in illegal drugs three years ago.
“Ni-decide ko nga mo undang kay wala nay ayo bisyoha. Makadaot sa kaugmaon (I decided to stop because that vice does not bring any good. It destroys our future),” he told Cebu Daily News.
More boys in the trade
Loloy, now 15 years old, was among a number of minors who have fallen victim to illegal drugs, either as a drug user, a peddler or a courier.
Based on the records of the Police Regional Office in Central Visayas (PRO-7), at least 4,887 were minors from among the nearly 100,000 persons who surrendered to authorities in the region under the Philippine National Police’s Oplan Tokhang, or since President Rodrigo Duterte launched the war on drugs on July 1, 2016.
Of this figure, 4,827 admitted to be using illegal drugs, 46 peddled the illegal substance, while 14 acted as drug couriers.
There was no specific data on the age bracket, but the same record showed that most of these minors were either in high school or were out-of-school youth.
The same police data also indicated there were more young males than females into the drugs trade — 4,760 boys and 127 girls.
For the whole of Central Visayas, the PRO-7 report said that Bohol has the most number of children who were into illegal drugs at 2,621, followed by Cebu province (1,740), Cebu City (247), Mandaue City (156), Lapu-Lapu City (104) and Siquijor (19).
On top of the nearly 5,000 young surrenderers, the police said they have also arrested at least 428 minors during different operations in Central Visayas, either for using or selling illegal drugs, since the drug war started in July 2016.
Of the number, at least 218 have been turned over to the Second Chance centers for proper intervention.
Under the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act, a child who commits a crime at age 15 is exempted from criminal liability but shall undergo rehabilitation and/or counseling.
Children above 15 years old to 17 years old are also free from criminal liability, but shall be subjected to an intervention program, unless they acted with discernment in committing an offense and could therefore be prosecuted for their crimes.
Cause for concern
Chief Insp. Marylou Cuizon, head of the Women and Children’s Protection Center of the PRO-7, said authorities must seriously look into the number of minors who are into illegal drugs.
“It is a cause for concern,” she told Cebu Daily News.
She called on the parents to look after their children and to make sure they stay away from illegal drugs.
In many instances, she said, children go wayward because of the lack of guidance from and indifference of parents.
“There are actually parents who are remiss of their duties and responsibilities. We wonder why there are still children who are on the streets at past
midnight. Are their parents not looking for them?,” Cuizon lamented.
“I hope parents won’t sleep unless all their children are at home. They must remember that if their kids become addicted to illegal drugs, the entire family will crumble,” she said.
Cuizon, who has four children, said parents play a vital role in molding their children as well as in addressing the menace of illegal drugs in the country.
“Kids, young as they are, need guidance from their parents. We chose to have kids, and so let us fulfill our responsibilities as parents,” she said.
Rehab center for minors
Lawyer Joan Saniel, executive director of the Children’s Legal Bureau (CLB), expressed hope that kids who are involved in illegal drugs will reform their ways through rehabilitation or other interventions.
“We need to address this issue, and it won’t be done by just making arrests or even killing persons. Proper interventions should instead be made if we want to save those kids,” she told Cebu Daily News.
Unfortunately, Saniel said there are few drug rehabilitation centers and other facilities that can cater to the needs of minors who were hooked on illegal drugs.
Msgr. Joseph Tan, media liaison officer of the Archdiocese of Cebu, said there is a need for different sectors of society to get their act together to save minors who are into illegal drugs.
“Social conditions plus the reality of the vice itself, I supposed, are factors that drive children to use illegal drugs. But whether we like it or not, children are the future of our land,” he said.
“To that effect, we urge people not to condemn these kids for using or selling illegal drugs. Instead, there should be concerted efforts from different sectors to address the issue in a holistic way. I believe that there is still hope to salvage them out of their current state,” he added.