Religious groups pass on invitation

THE first open discussion between different religious groups and the Cebu City police brought mixed reactions to the surface regarding the plan to let priests, pastors, imams and other religious leaders join Oplan Tokhang Reloaded.

Fr. Carmelo Diola of the Dilaab Foundation said they have started their rehabilitation program in support of the police’s campaign against illegal drugs.

“All of us here are very busy. The question here is, how can we make sure that our impact is felt? It is not the competence of the religious to apprehend or even to witness an operation,” he said.

Labang (a combination Lahat Bangon) is the church’s program that is meant to help Tokhang surrenderers, he said.

This was seconded by Ustadz Najib Rasul, Voice of Islam Foundation head, who pointed out that the imams can incorporate an information drive during their prayer time.

“Like me, I am blind so I cannot go with the police. But we can make use of our congregations to help the police. Let us make use of our pulpits to educate our people,” he said.

At least 20 representatives from different religious groups responded to the call of the police that they accompany authorities during Oplan Tokhang visits. When this started nearly nine months ago, it involved knocking on the doors of suspected drug users and pushers, and persuading them to stop.

The Cebu City Police Office (CCPO) initiated the call to the religious groups from the Catholic Church, other Christian groups, and the Muslim community.

Msgr. Joseph Tan, media liaison officer of the Archdiocese of Cebu, pointed out that priests should first have competence to join the police during the operation.

“The logical thing is that our priests should first have competence. It needs some kind of skills training because we have to be physically fit also, because we might become the liability of the police in the operation,” he said.

Sister Nene Pagaduan of the Maranatha Christian Fellowship said that they are willing to go with the police.

“We will act as witnesses. If something will happen, that is a risk that we have to take because if we really want change in this country, we have to take that risk,” she said.

As for the Cebu City Government, Councilor Dave Tumulak, deputy mayor for police matters, said that they recognized the efforts of the religious groups in the multi-sectoral approach to Oplan Tokhang.

“We encourage religious groups to widen the organization down to the sitio level; as part of their contribution, they can visit the homes of suspected users and pushers,” said Tumulak.

Tumulak admitted that most of the religious groups’ leaders had second thoughts about joining the police during their sorties. “It’s really a risk. It’ll delay the police’s operations,” he said.

He added that the groups have their own ways of helping, such as by verifying the police’s list of names of suspected users and pushers, and counseling those who’ve surrendered.

The importance of the family in guiding the youth to avoid drugs was also tackled.

Supt. Artemio Ricabo, the CCPO’s deputy director for administration, said he understands the religious leaders’ position.

“We understand that they are busy with their day-to-day activities and we have to prioritize their safety, too, especially from malicious elements in barangays like Ermita and Duljo, which have a high concentration of drugs,” Ricabo said.

Ricabo said that the police can tap the religious groups anytime, consider their promise to help provide emotional and spiritual support for surrenderers.

After one month, another discussion will be organized for a follow-up on efforts of the priests, imams and pastors to help the police in the administration’s anti-drug campaign.
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