IN late August, a barangay-based recovery and reintegration program was initiated by the Ugnayan ng Barangay at Simbahan (Ubas), in coordination with the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), in Barangay Subangdaku, Mandaue City.

Called Labang (Lahat Bangon) or Everyone Rise, the program aims to help Project Tokhang surrenderers in their reintegration in society.

“It’s 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily Monday to Friday,” said Subangdaku Barangay Captain Ernie Manatad of the sessions for Labang.

The program was launched at the San Roque Parish Pastoral Center with 91 surrenderers. But only 25 were serious and graduated at the end of six months, he said.

Some joined the 12 steps meetings but didn’t persist. “The rest are joining only the sports, fun run, Zumba, Bible sharing. Actually, these are aftercare activities already,” Manatad said.

“The first four months is the intervention program. It’s more on education on the menace of drug use. The last two months is training and reintegration. We help them with job placement. We are negotiating with the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority to send us training providers,” he said.

“In the first four months, there is behavioral education, session therapy, individual therapy, group dynamics,” Manatad added. “The intervention program includes the co-dependents. Most of them have broken families. There are sessions with spouses and children, so they can be reconciled.”

Labang is held under a big tent in the middle of the Subangdaku Garden. But group dynamic sessions which need more privacy are held in the parish pastoral center, Manatad said.

They showed up

Why was Subangdaku chosen to be the first barangay for the Labang program? Because when a meeting was called on the matter, they were the ones who showed up, Manatad said simply.

“At the time, there was no program yet by the Department of Health,” he said. “We did an activity in Subangdaku. The Narcotics Anonymous (NA) came. The surrenderers liked the 12 steps program, so NA agreed to continue for as long as the surrenderers committed to attend. They had a boodle fight, walking, zumba.”

Manatad committed to create regular meetings on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Then Fridays became the sessions for the Lectio Divina, where there is a reading of the Scriptures, reflection and Bible sharing.

Next, Mandaue Mayor Luigi Quisumbing called the Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to create a community-based rehabilitation program, he said.

“The DOH has now crafted a program that takes just two hours daily, and there are also weekend sessions,” Manatad said. “Under the DOH program, surrenderers with infections, like drug addicts prone to the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, are treated.”

Despite Manatad’s industry and enthusiasm, many surrenderers have yet to be served. In Subangdaku alone, there are 400 surrenderers. Mandaue City has more than 5,000 drug surrenderers.

Sixteen barangays are now implementing the DOH program in Mandaue City, the pilot area for the program, Manatad said.

Compromise

For surrenderers not attending the sessions due to work, Manatad’s compromise with them is that they cannot forgo the Assist BI (Alcohol, Smoking and Substance Involvement Screening Test-Brief Intervention), the screening for level of addiction to determine the intervention they will need.

“So that they can be cleared of drug use, they must take a drug test twice a week—Mondays and Fridays. The regular attendees are given surprise drug tests,” he said.

Could they use the cost of the drug test as an excuse to skip it?

“Shabu is P200-P500 per sachet. The drug test kit is only P35. That's P70 a week, which is cheaper than buying shabu,” he said.

Those not ready to join rehab are asked to join the aftercare activities “para mahumok (to soften them up)” so they can later be persuaded to join the intervention.

“Commitment is needed to attend rehab,” Manatad said. “The addict is the last to know that he is an addict.”

To help the surrenderers, Manatad said, in cases when both the spouses are addicts, and they have children to support, the local government gives them rice.

“We also enrolled them in the DSWD’s cash-for-work program. It’s a 10-day work-with-pay program. We have submitted a proposal,” he said.

For the first batch of the six-month program, the barangay provided the snacks and lunch. But after finding the cost too high, he said, they may no longer give free lunch to the next batch.

Partnership

Fr. Carmelo Diola, chairman of the Dilaab Foundation Inc. and member of the Ubas National Technical Working Group, said it was the expanded Ubas that started Labang in Subangdaku.

The expanded Ubas involves Dilaab, Barangay Subangdaku, Rotary Club of Fort San Pedro, Magone Home After Care program of the Salesians of Don Bosco priests, FARM (Family and Recovery Management), the Mandaue City Police Office and the Cebu Alliance for Change. 

“Now Labang will be adopted by the Archdiocese of Cebu for the community-based rehabilitation program,” said Diola. “We are activating the Ubas, the network of priests, barangay officials and police. The template will be Barangay Subangdaku.”

Last Feb. 21, the Archdiocese of Cebu launched the Cebu Archdiocesan Program for Drug Dependents that aims to link the church with the police and the barangays to come up with a common platform in addressing the country’s drug problem. 

Asked if the Archdiocese would respond to the call of local government units for a venue for outpatient interventions, Diola said churches were already providing a venue, like the Redemptorist Church, and St. Joseph’s Parish in Mabolo, which he said had done so for about eight years already.

“The Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Cebu City is about to start,” he said.

He said the parishes would make an inventory of their resources to find out if they could provide the 1) venue, 2) volunteers and 3) spiritual formation for the community rehabilitation of drug surrenderers.

“We will recruit volunteers: priests, nuns, seminarians, lay people. They will undergo five-day training on nine modules,” he said.

Diola said they are pushing for community-based rehabilitation for several reasons.

“In Cebu, the cost is P6,000/month for center-based rehab. But in Subangdaku, our actual experience is that community-based treatment costs just P3,000/month/person.

“A blind spot of government is it is pouring its money into the construction of center-based rehab. But the challenge of center-based rehab is that the drug dependent’s family is not there. The environment is artificial. When they return to their place, they fail to keep their sobriety because they have no support group,” he said. “But in community-based rehab, they already have a support group. Sila na ang manokhang sa ilang mga classmates. (They end up doing the inviting of their friends to rehab.)”

On the progress of the formation of Ubas groups, Diola said: “On paper, 56 percent of barangays nationwide already have the Barangay Action Team (BAT), the lowest level of the Ubas. The highest level of Ubas is the convenors, followed by the Technical Working Group (TWG), then the BAT.”

But while Cebu has one of the most active TWGs, it has only two active BATs so far: one in Subangdaku and in one barangay in Lapu-Lapu City, he said.