Editorial: Change of heart

WILL you trust a former drug addict or shabu dealer?

That’s a choice that will confront citizens as more drug pushers and users surrender. The Duterte administration’s war against illegal drugs has left a trail of 72 bodies, killed from June 30 to July 7, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer Group’s “Kill List” (http://inq.news/kill-list).

Fearing for their lives, persons involved in illegal drugs have been more than receptive to Oplan Tokhang. This “intensified campaign” involves the police and volunteers knocking on the homes (“toktok” in Cebuano) and asking (“hangyo”) those listed by barangay officials as being involved in the drug trade to voluntarily surrender or face the consequences.

“Overwhelming” surrender

All over the country, the mass surrender of drug users and pushers has been described by a police spokesperson as “overwhelming,” reported the Philippine Information Agency.

Government and nongovernment stakeholders are collaborating to offer rehabilitation for these surrenderees. This multi-stakeholder response is much needed, given the scale of the nationwide demand for a community-based program for drug treatment.

The Cebu Provincial Anti-Drug Abuse Office is reaching out to the Philippine National Police, Department of Health, nongovernment organizations like the Dilaab Foundation, and private rehabilitation operators like the Family and Recovery Management to help an estimated 7,778 drug personalities who surrendered from July 1 to July 10, reported Oscar C. Pineda in Sun.Star Cebu last July 12.

The Cebu City Government and the Cebu City Office for Substance Abuse and Prevention (Cosap) have relaunched the We Care Program last July 11. According to University of the Philippines Cebu intern Ianne Clarisse A. Ortiz in her July 12 report in Sun.Star Cebu, the program will enroll Oplan Tokhang surrenderees in five barangays, which include Mabolo, Buhisan and Sambag II.

Multi-stakeholdership collaboration taps various disciplines and resources to fill the community need. Expertise in medical, psychological, and spiritual counseling is needed to help drug dependents recover from the addiction.

As pointed out by Mabolo Barangay Captain Reynaldo Ompoc, a drug addict cannot easily let go of the vice. Thus, stakeholders must evaluate whether the one-hour session planned in the We Care Program is sufficient to make dependents cut the habit and stay clean.

Communal test

Due to constraints in resources and the “overwhelming” number of surrenderees, stakeholders agree that a community-based drug rehabilitation program is the best possible solution. Drug users and pushers can stay in the community while undergoing the treatment.

However, this arrangement is also double-edged. A hard-earned lesson among those involved in drug rehabilitation is that the community also presents the greatest challenges for dependents to clean up their acts and move on.

First, the factors pushing drug dependence may still be present and make a person vulnerable to sliding back to the old addiction or the drug trade. Families, neighbors, and friends are often the parties triggering or influencing illegal habits.

Another challenge is coping with other people’s judgment of a former drug dependent. Many citizens are afraid of former drug delinquents, distrusting their ability to recover from an addiction and self-control to turn into a new leaf.

Communal acceptance of former users and pushers will also be tested under the present climate of public shaming that first exposed and flushed out these persons in the barangays. A society that disregards the basic human rights of a person, even if he or she is a lawbreaker, may be as intolerant and cynical of the same person’s second or third chances to join society as a law-abiding citizen.

Thus, Oplan Tokhang’s impact on society has yet to be seen not only in transforming the lives of drug dependents and illegal merchants but also in the hearts and minds of citizens who must co-exist with them.
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