THE message becomes deceptively simple, especially when it comes from the mouth of the soft-spoken Jonah John Rodriguez, head of the Cebu City Office for Substance Abuse and Prevention (Cosap). There is more to it than what appears on the surface. Much of the successes in government’s anti-illegal drug campaign have been due to the cooperation on the ground—the enabling attitude of barangay leaders.
Recently, the Regional Oversight Committee in Barangay Drug Clearing, which is composed of the Philippine National Police (PNP), the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), Department of Health (DOH), Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), and Cosap, has declared 14 barangays in Central Visayas drug-cleared. Two of these barangays are in Cebu City, namely, Sto. Niño and Sudlon 1.
Assessment results on Barangay Sto. Niño may not come as a surprise, considering that it is in a highly commercial area, with fewer residents. For Sudlon 1, a big part of its clearing success is the big turnout of participants in its community-based rehabilitation program. For the latter barangay to have lured in around 98 surrenderers to complete three to six months of therapy, which by the way includes sessions with family members, is a tale of triumph by itself.
The community-based program incidentally welcomes persons deprived of liberty (PDL) under plea bargaining agreement. This has become a way to decongest our prison facilities, a big part of them occupied by individuals in drug-related cases. With the dearth of DOH-accredited private rehabilitation institutions, the community-based program plays the role in helping these individuals comply with parole and pobation requirements.
But, yes, Rodriguez’s experience as Cosap head, made him see the crucial role of the barangay, which is mandated by law to allocate a percentage of its budget for its Barangay Anti-drug Abuse Council (Badac), which should have its own focal person to supervise the program.
The Cosap has deployed teams of capable therapy coaches in the barangays. These coaches are themselves recovering drug dependents who have fairly served longer clean time and have undergone training. A look-see in some of the sessions would give one the view that, indeed, the sessions work because the coaches and the participants share the same language. Communication has been the key.
It had been noted as well that while some individuals complain about being in the drug watch list, the PDEA also explained that the list is pretty much old and would need verification, and since that would entail prolonged surveillance, it might make the process easier if the residents themselves, who think they have been involved with illegal drugs at one time or another, submit themselves to the government’s drug-clearing program by participating in the community therapy sessions. That should help faciliate their removal from the drug watch list. Listed individuals who claim they are not involved in illegal drugs may opt not to attend the sessions, although they could still be subject to verification as they are in the watch list.
To kick off the community-based rehabilitation program, it’s the village chief that visits the houses of known drug users and pushers in the neighborhood, encouraging them to attend the therapy sessions for a period of time and get a certificate of completion, a document that might come in handy in cases of dubious arrests.
Rodriguez and his team must be commended for doing the groundworks at such scale depite the pandemic. The program is the more hopeful and better side, apart from the ugly twin of extrajudicial killings involving personalities in illegal drug trade.
Community-based rehabiliation has also been at work for the longest time in Talisay City, which also has its own stories of successes. Humane and with the least cost, it’s the most neat program there is and worthy of emulation.