Ifugao drug surrenderers thank President Duterte for chance to ‘fix our lives’

BAGUIO CITY –- President Rodrigo Roa Duterte has changed the lives of 106 drug dependents in Ifugao when he opened the doors for them to voluntarily surrender and avail of the rehabilitation programs of the government.

Seven of the 109 first graduates of the Ifugao Reflection Camp’s (IRC) drug rehabilitation facility last April 25, are thankful that the government opened the door for them to change their lives which were slowly going down the drain.

“Sonny” (not his real name), the youngest IRC camper at 12 years old, said “Change came to me in IRC, if not, I would soon be wearing a yellow shirt.” IRC is located in a controlled facility adjacent Ifugao Provincial jail, where inmates wear a yellow uniform.

He associated the white shirt he and 16 other minors and 92 male and female adults wear as proof of their freedom from illegal drugs.

“I am wearing white, this means I am released from my old practice,” he said in the Ilocano dialect. Such freedom will ensure a good future to a very young boy who lost his way at a very early age serving as a courier of illegal drugs, Sonny said.

“Benny’s” (not his real name) story is similar as he talked about living a life of loneliness and being isolated by the community. In the Ilocano dialect, he said “I lost the trust of my family. Community members avoided me because they feared me. I was despised by everybody and I often fear the danger of being caught and ending in jail,” he said.

President Duterte’s encouragement for drug users to surrender to the police and avail of rehabilitation programs opened the door for Benny’s slow but sure escape from slavery.

During the six-month period at IRC, Benny saw a change in the way family members treated him. As he completes the IRC’s six months initial program, his neighbors started to talk to him. Now, he can mingle with the community just like when he was not yet into drugs.

“Joseph” (not his real name) of Kiangan, Ifugao can only say “Thank heaven, it’s nice to be alive.”

He related that in the many years of taking in illegal drugs, he lived a useless life but “thanks to President Duterte.”

The six months with the IRC “was not just a period of rehabilitation and education program, not just prayers to connect back to God, but it was for me, having a family who understands, who cares and are willing to help me recover and return to my community,” without being feared, Joseph said.

“Raven” of Lamut, Ifugao related being an only child who gets what he wants. He said he clung to friends because he didn’t have siblings to be with.

As a driver, he said he needed to be awake especially when there are travels. He admitted that during those years of being hooked to drugs, he almost lost his wife. He even saw his bedridden mother left unattended at home. “God gave me a chance to change,” he said and through the government’s intervention, he and his wife are now both helping his sick mother recover from stroke.

Just like the four earlier mentioned surrenderers, “Lito” of Lagawe, “Jessie”, who is 15 years old and “Jenna”, a single mother of six, said they were despised like lepers by their family because of their being drug addicts. But when they went for rehabilitation, the relationship with their families improved.

The remaining surrenderers’ six-month program is still ongoing.

The government’s help to them, however, did not end in the graduation. They will be monitored for 18 months as livelihood, skills trainings and other assistance will be provided to them until they fully recover from the slavery of illegal drugs.

While they were only 109 in number, thousands have directly benefited from the government help including the families of the surrenderers and the community members who are also “healing” with the rehabilitation of their townmates.

The IRC was set up by the Ifugao Provincial Anti-Drug Abuse Council (PADAC) in support to President Duterte’s call to illegal drug users and pushers to surrender and be transformed.

Seeing the need to help their fellow Ifugaos, Governor Pedro Mayam-o said “the sincerity of the campers pushed us to make do with what we have.”

Just like when President Duterte started his term in June 2016, the provincial government did not have funds for the rehabilitation but it saw the need to act and move fast after 601 of their townmates voluntarily surrendered following the President’s call for change.

The IRC camp is a province-owned facility. It was earlier used as a the Ifugao district jail by the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) but was abandoned after they swapped the bigger land area of the provincial government adjacent to the old jail.

Mayam-o said the lack of funding did not stop them from helping their fellow Ifugaos. The province, municipalities, barangays and national line agencies pulled their resources together, making IRC possible. There were also volunteers who gave their time in helping the surrenderers.

Office of the President Assistant Secretary Aurora Ignacio who came for the event and saw the IRC facility said it was a laudable act on the part of Ifugao to come up with the only program which rehabilitates the drug addict despite the lack of funds. The same program will be adopted as a national model for implementation in all regions.

Ignacio said the 109 is the first group of graduates who underwent a complete therapy and they are the proofs that President Duterte’s advocacy is slowly but surely achieving its goal to save the country and protect the future of the young people from the drug menace. Liza Agoot/PNA-northboundasia.com