WHEN he was still a street dweller begging for food, Roberto Plando Jr. was an online hit with videos of him uttering soap opera lines and his own folksy wisdom in either English or Filipino.
Plando, who had a history of substance abuse, sported unkempt long hair and a beard back then.
On Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020, two days before Christmas, the man known as Berta returned to the streets in uptown Cebu City that had been his home for roughly two decades of his life.
He returned with a new look. He returned in tune with the Yuletide season’s spirit of giving. With members of Battle Against Ignorance (BAI) Foundation Inc., the organization behind his treatment and recovery, he helped in the distribution of packed meals to street-dwelling individuals and families near the Fuente Osmeña Circle.
“Ani ni siya, give and take ra man, no (Our life is give and take). So, you give if you have (something in life)... If you don’t have (it), somebody will give (it),” he said.
During the outreach, Plando met his younger brother Allen, also a citizen of the streets. (He changed the subject matter when SunStar Cebu inquired about his brother.)
Plando’s recovery only shows that it takes a community to help a distressed person.
He felt grateful for the support that several organizations and individuals have poured in for his recovery and to other people who need help.
The street dwellers also inspired him as they have the courage to exist.
“Nanglimbasog sila nga mabuhi (They strive to continue living),” Plando said.
Fellow street denizen
Twenty-year-old street dweller Eugene, one of the outreach’s recipients, said his memories of Plando were of the latter’s singing to public utility jeepney passengers in exchange for food or money.
He also dreamed of improving his life, leaving his bad habits and abandoning the streets someday.
Poverty, he said, forced him to beg. Sniffing from a plastic bag containing solvent was his way to forget he had an empty stomach.
Eugene said he had stopped his vice for months now, but he was uncertain how long he could hold his fort—hunger is a phantom army, threatening him every day.
Despite his state, Eugene felt happy for Plando’s recovery.
“Tuod lang, kon ari siya diri, di gyod siya makabag-o (For sure, if he stays here, he can never change),” he said.
Plando’s journey from being a street dweller and beggar to becoming a new man has been featured by various media outlets, including national television.
Plando’s transformation was rooted in the kindness of vlogger Anton Camilo, whose concern for Plando led him to bring the street dweller to BAI Foundation’s Safe Haven Addiction Treatment and Recovery Village in Barangay Talamban, Cebu City.
GMA television magazine show “Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho” recently featured Plando, who was introduced to vices, including illegal drugs, by his former male partner.
Plando, a native of Barangay Sambag 2, has been lucid in the past two months. He is continuing his reintegration into society with the help of BAI Foundation.
Bai Foundation, a non-profit organization, will visit Sambag 2 next week to distribute goods donated by the Cebu City Department of Social Welfare and Services and of the Cebu City Office for Substance Abuse Prevention.
The foundation supported Berta’s lodging and treatment expenses. It is also trying to raise funds for the surgery on Berta’s deformed hands.
BAI Foundation’s dream is to take care of the addiction problem holistically by providing housing to the family of the victims of substance abuse and supporting their children’s education.
Seeing Plando’s progress made Camilo happy and proud of him. Though not related by blood, Camilo shows his respect for Plando by calling the latter his “Kuya,” a local term of endearment for older men.
Camilo said he first met Plando last July. He said he had just attended a mass during that time when Plando passed by him and caught his attention.
He later invited Plando for several conversations over meals until he gained Berta’s trust and earned his friendship. He then introduced him to Safe Haven.
Camilo said that meeting Plando was all part of God’s plan, adding that the latter also helped him overcome his depression.
Leslie Yap, chief operating officer of BAI Foundation, said she had an encounter with Plando before, and it was a heartwarming one.
Plando, she said, offered the lone burger he was eating to Yap and her child. “Mangaon ta (Let’s eat),” he told them.
The gesture fluttered Yap’s heart.