NEW LEASE IN LIFE. Thirteen persons who use drugs (PWUDs) complete their 12-session community-based drug rehabilitation program in Barangay Panubtuban, Dauin, Negros Oriental on Nov. 13, 2020. Msgr. Julius Heruela, parish priest of the St. Nicholas of Tolentino Parish in the town (standing, right), served as the guest speaker who gave words of enlightenment to the graduates. (Photo by Judy Flores Partlow)

DUMAGUETE CITY – Ricarte de los Santos (not his real name) who hails from the interior, mountainous village of Panubtuban in Dauin, Negros Oriental, has promised to leave his former life as a drug user and stay away from the bad habit that almost ruined him.

De los Santos, who spoke on behalf of his companions during the recent commencement program of their Community-Based Drug Rehabilitation Program (CBDRP), thanked the local government unit (LGU) of Dauin, headed by Mayor Galicano Truita, and the different organizations, line agencies, and stakeholders that assisted them throughout the sessions.

“Kami sa akong mga kauban dire sa PWUDs (persons who use drugs) nagasaad nga among paningkamotan nga among tumanon ug unsaon namo paglikay sa mga tentasyon (Me and my PWUD companions promise to do our best to stay away from temptation),” de los Santos said, referring to the abuse of drugs.

The community-based government program in the LGUs, that cascades down to the barangay level, is designed to support President Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign to eradicate the illegal drug trade. It is starting to pay off in Dauin, with five batches of former drug users already reformed.

De los Santos is one of the 13 PWUDs who comprised the fifth batch to undergo the program. They all expressed gratitude to the government for giving them a second chance at life as they enter into a new phase after completing 12 sessions.

The CBDRP is a joint undertaking of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) with LGUs, with the support of other stakeholders.

De los Santos and his companions received their certificates of completion on Nov. 13 during a simple closing program in Barangay Panubtuban, after almost three months of sessions that covered various aspects of life, such as livelihood training, health and wellness, and even spiritual growth.

Msgr. Julius Perpetuo S. Heruela, the parish priest of the St. Nicholas of Tolentino Parish in Dauin, who was the guest speaker in the program, told the PWUDs that completing the community-based drug rehabilitation program is the first step, but what will happen afterwards is also critical.

Heruela said there will be more challenges after this and change will not happen overnight, it has to go through a process.

“But we need the help of each other in that process, and that is why we have the police, the municipal social welfare office, health authorities, the LGU, the church, and other stakeholders,” he said.

“People who fall and are trying to get back up on their feet need help and if, in the future, a person falls again, then we are assured that there are many who are willing to help pick you up,” Heruela added.

Dr. Melpha Yee, the municipal health officer of Dauin, meanwhile, said drug users could either get sick, lose their mind, die, or end up in jail.

Because of drug abuse, the mind of a user becomes distorted, which would lead to the commission of crimes, such as murder, rape, and robbery, among others, she said as a warning and reminder to the graduates.

For his part, the mayor congratulated the graduates for having completed the program but also warned them that they will still be on the watch-list of the police and the PDEA which will monitor if they will stay away from the illegal drug trade and drug use.

During the ceremony, the graduates received food packs and a token of appreciation from the LGU while Truita also said he will do his best to help them find jobs.

In an interview with the Philippine News Agency, the town mayor said around 60 pre-identified PWUDs have completed the community-based rehabilitation program in Dauin.

The program is limited to a minimum of 10 to 12 participants per barangay or per cluster, he said.

“We call this as a very successful graduation because we have observed that they are really willing to change for the better,” Truita said.

According to the mayor, the program will be continuous and the next one will be held in the villages of Masaplod Sur and Lipayo, and onward until all 23 barangays in Dauin are covered.

"We have 13 more barangays, and we hope that we can finish this by the first quarter of 2021,” he said.

Truita said it is his dream for the town of Dauin to be declared drug-free, considering that it is the primary tourism hub in Negros Oriental.

Barangay Baslay is the first village to be declared by the PDEA and the police as drug-free, he noted. (PNA)