GENERAL SANTOS CITY – The provincial government of South Cotabato has allotted some PHP2 million in livelihood grants for former drug offenders who have graduated from its innovative reformation program.

Haide Agustin, head of the Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office (PSWDO), said Thursday the initiative is in line with the expansion this year of the local government’s flagship Alalay Sa Negosyo, Ginhawa at Trabaho or Angat program.

She said an initial 19 former clients of its Balay Silangan Reformatory Center in Tupi town have received cash grants of PHP10,000 each as “seed capital” for their planned livelihood ventures or projects.

These were released in a simple ceremony following a program orientation held in Koronadal City on Wednesday.

Agustin said the beneficiaries were among the 46 drug offenders who comprised the first batch of graduates last year of the center’s reformation program.

“These are just the initial recipients. Graduates of the other batches will also undergo assessment so they can avail of the program,” she said in a report.

Agustin said the special livelihood program is jointly implemented by their office and the Provincial Anti-Drug Abuse Council, which contributed some PHP500,000 for the grants this year.

As part of its rollout, the beneficiaries were assessed by the provincial government and required to come up with their preferred livelihood projects.

The ventures proposed by the first batch of beneficiaries included barbecue and burger selling, hog raising, farming, painting, rice retailing, tailoring as well as putting up a sari-sari store, carinderia, welding shop and motorcycle repair shop.

Those qualified underwent support sessions on values formation, bookkeeping and basic business management as well as skills training.

The beneficiaries will be subjected to monitoring by the PSWDO six months after the release of the grants.

Agustin said 47 more graduates under the second batch of the reformation program are currently awaiting assessment and 32 under the third batch.

She said not all Balay Silangan clients will receive livelihood assistance as some of them are considered financially stable and only those “really in need” would be catered.

Introduced by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, Balay Silangan or “house of hope” is a “temporary shelter intended to reform drug offenders into self-sufficient and law-abiding members of society.”

Under the program, the beneficiaries undergo information and education sessions, among them on the illegal drug campaign and the provisions of Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002. (PNA