MANILA – As a subtle approach to the war against illegal hard drugs, President Rodrigo Duterte proposed the use of a portion of the Fort Ramon Magsaysay military installation to construct the Mega Drug Abuse Treatment and Rehabilitation Center (Mega DATRC).
In November of 2016, President Duterte together with philanthropist Huang Rulun inaugurated the PHP1.4-billion, 10-hectare compound designed to house as many as 10,000 residents—mostly surrenderers in the intensified campaign against illegal hard drugs.
In an exclusive interview with PNA, Mega DATRC OIC and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Nelson Dancel gave an insight on how the facility meets the day-to-day challenges facing the staff and residents as well.
“First of all, those admitted here are residents or patients. This is not a prison and the individuals housed here are not in a practical sense, criminals,” Dr. Dancel clarified.
And while treatment in a private facility may cost up to PHP80,000 for a 6-month period, the Mega DATRC is absolutely free of charge. “We even provide most of the basic necessities for the residents—the official shirt that they need to wear in the compound, toiletries, food, counselling and other basic needs. All a resident really needs to bring is himself,” Dr. Dancel said.
To be admitted, a patient or resident needs to fulfil basic requirements: a medical certificate to ensure he is physically capable to perform exercises and other manual tasks; a referral from the local government unit (LGU) or social services; accompanying petitioners or relatives and most importantly, a court order which clears a resident of any criminal cases.
At present, there are 494 residents in the Mega DATRC. This number is divided into groups of 25 with one case-officer-in-charge, usually with some form of medical background like nursing.
The treatment process is divided into phases. The first phase is the Emotional and Motivational Unit (EMU) where the resident is taught the concept of self-acceptance or the willingness to undergo rehabilitation and cooperate with the rehabilitation staff.
The second is the Junior phase where the residents are taught self-development which takes an average of 2-months depending on their grasp. Visitation rights are granted to them at this point.
In the Senior phase, residents learn about self-formation where the family is involved in the rehabilitation process. Seniors are also tasked with expediting the activities of the Juniors. It is the Seniors responsibility to see to it that Juniors do not commit violations and guide them through the phase.
Lastly, there is the transitional phase where the residents are gauged according to their performance. Residents are also taught technical skills through the Technological Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) so that they may easily find a source of livelihood after returning to their communities.
“Not only do we reform or treat former drug abusers but we also give them the necessary skill sets to earn a living when they get back to the real world,” Dr. Dancel said.
Treatment before release from the Mega DATRC may take up to 12 months but Dr. Dancel indicated that some residents have been released from the facility as early as the 6th or 8th month since the time they were admitted.
“The shortest time a resident spent here is 6 months and 2 days,” according to Dr. Dancel.
The residents’ day-to-day activities depend on the phase they are currently in but generally, a typical day starts at 5:30 a.m. where residents are required to do the “Army-dozen, a series of physical exercises similar to that given in the Army.
After calisthenics, residents are allowed to deal with personal necessities or bathroom break then breakfast followed by lectures by the case officer. Activities are lined up all throughout the day and at night, residents must write down what they have accomplished each day in the form of a diary.
“Our system is like a school. If a student had back subjects, he has to go over them and gets left behind of his classmates,” Dr. Dancel explained.
Inside the Mega DATRC, residents are mixed together—Ilocanos, Bisaya, Bicolano and other provinces and there are no solid provincial groups are formed.
“We do not encourage the forming of gangs or clans which is why there is an ethnic diversity to each cluster under a case officer,” Dr. Dancel explained.
For recreation, the Mega DATRC has a basketball and volleyball court, chess boards and musical instruments. Television is a privilege of the seniors for now simply because of budget constraints and a technical difficulty in signal reception due to the facility’s remote location.
Towards the end of a resident’s stay, the case officer faces the Mega DATRC board for a case defense to determine whether a resident is fit for release from the facility and into the care of an LGU-run treatment center.
“It will be less stressful for a person to undergo treatment in a community facility where he will be considered an out-patient and he will get to go home to his family,” Dr. Dancel pointed out.
But like any project associated with the government’s illegal drugs campaign, critics have alleged that manhandling, escapes and solitary confinement have been plaguing the Mega DATRC less than a year since it became operational.
On the matter of escapees, Dr. Dancel explained that it was natural for some residents to feel homesick or worry about their family members, which is why they attempt to escape.
“Residents are not allowed to have visitors until after the first month of their stay here which is why they long to see family members. Sometimes, they are simply bored or confused as to what they should be doing here in the facility,” Dr. Dancel said.
There is no perimeter fence along the Mega DATRC compound and the walls are built low which is why escapes do happen. The compound itself has private security and if an escapee successfully breaks out, the staff will call on the military police securing the camp.
“The Mega DATRC is not a prison so it is not set up as such. We can only be more vigilant for now because it is really difficult to secure on a 24/7 basis,” Dr. Dancel said.
Although the Mega DATRC is a medical facility, entry to the compound follows strict security protocols. Visitors are searched and items which can be used as weapons, lighters and most especially mobile phones, are restricted.
Dr. Dancel also clarified that “ISO” or isolation is simply the act of segregating erring individuals from the rest of residents. “There are really those who cannot behave so sometimes there are two or three people bunched together in a room. They are isolated but not solitary,” he said.
Physical contact between staff and residents is also strictly prohibited. Even if a violation is severe, a resident merely receives extra physical work like exercises or is asked to clean the compound or fetch water for his mates.
Dr. Dancel is not surprised that some residents may be unruly given their past lifestyles and associations. He explained that only 1 percent of the total number of surrenderers are recommended for admission to the Mega DATRC and these are the severe addiction cases.
But despite the seemingly hopeless predicament of the residents, Dr. Dancel is optimistic that most of these cases can still be reformed, citing the 2 batches that have already been released to the care of community treatment centers.
A total of 100 graduates have been discharged from the Mega DATRC — the first batch with 53 and the second with 47. They will now have to report to their LGUs and have to be monitored for the next 18 months while random drug testing will be performed to ensure that they are consistent with the treatment program.
“We currently face a lot of challenges here at the Mega DATRC especially with the physical structure—the lack of adequate water systems, the need for a perimeter fence and other improvements but we are proud of what we do here. The Mega Rehab is here to help those who’ve lost their way. We believe there is hope for them,” Dr. Dancel said. (PNA)