Rehab center in need of rehab | Inquirer Opinion

Rehab center in need of rehab

/ 05:09 AM November 27, 2018

Remember former Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) chair Dionisio Santiago?

A year ago, he made the remark that setting up a mega drug rehabilitation facility, specifically the Drug Abuse Treatment and Rehabilitation Center (DATRC) inside Fort Magsaysay in Palanan City, Nueva Ecija, was a “mistake.”


It was too high-maintenance and impractical, said Santiago; the P1.4-billion used to build the facility could have been better spent on smaller community-based rehab centers that would accommodate 150 to 200 residents and allow for a family support system, which is vital for a recovering drug user.

That remark did not sit well with Santiago’s boss in Malacañang.


Saying he was “offended” by the statement, President Duterte promptly sacked the DDB chief.

Not surprisingly, the DDB board expressed full support for the facility, and even allotted P5 million from its budget for the center.

Perhaps the President’s pique was understandable. The DATRC, after all, was touted as the centerpiece of his administration’s antidrug program when it was inaugurated in November 2016.

The facility, sitting on 100,000 square meters of land, could accommodate up to 10,000 drug surrenderers and was meant to spearhead treatment for the supposedly 3-4 million drug addicts the country has — a figure Mr. Duterte often cited in his speeches despite the DDB’s official data putting the number closer to 1.8 million current drug users.

The DATRC was a donation by real estate Chinese tycoon Huang Rulan, who, then Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial hastened to assure, had no business interests in the country and merely wanted to lend a hand to the Duterte administration’s “war on drugs.”

As to questions about the huge amount and daunting logistics needed to run and maintain the facility, Senators Ping Lacson and Tito Sotto said there were enough funds for it in the DDB’s 2018 budget of P150.93 million.

That was the last the country heard of the mega rehab facility, which some observers might have thought was an indication that things were humming along nicely on the rehabilitative side of the President’s antidrug program, while the other, more controversial side — the eliminationist “Oplan Tokhang” — cut a bloody, unforgiving swath across the country.


That is, until recently, with reports emerging that all’s not been well in the DATRC.

Specifically, the center has been hit by a flurry of employee desertions; at least 40 have left their jobs because of delayed salaries and other concerns.

The facility used to house some 1,000 drug surrenderers (only a tenth of its maximum capacity) along with about 100 employees; more than half of the workers who resigned were from the original 25 psychometricians assigned to the facility — case managers overseeing programs to reform drug dependents.

This means that, from the ideal ratio of 25 residents per psychometrician, the ratio is now 1-to-50.

“Some left because salaries were not released on time. Others left for job prospects closer to their homes,” said Dr. Nelson Dancel, DATRC chief.

Without explaining the cause of delayed salaries, the DATRC chief said he hopes the facility would get a bigger allocation of at least P86 million in 2019 as proposed by Malacañang.

Excluding staff salaries, the center spends some P7 million a month on electricity, gasoline, water and meals for residents.

Now Interior Undersecretary John Castriciones is singing a familiar, once-dangerous tune: The center is too big, he said by way of explaining the DATRC’s current woes; and it was merely donated, so the government did not have a choice.

Going forward, the Duterte administration, he added, would no longer pursue its original concept of three mega rehab centers, one each for Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao.

A sensible decision, if the problematic run so far of the DATRC is any gauge.

It’s fair to ask, though, whose fault it is if the center is bogged down these days by neglect, wasteful undercapacity and a much-diminished number of critical health professionals.

Even if drug dependents from other rehab centers in the country are sent to the DATRC, the more fundamental problem — a seeming lack of priority focus on this project and inadequate support for its staff and resources — needs to be addressed first, and urgently, if the rehab program is to have any chance of success at all.

Unless, of course, rehabilitating drug users was — is — never a really a serious objective in the administration’s agenda.

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