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We have to do something

12:36 AM August 12, 2016

The state of the nation is largely defined by its challenges and how we address them. The President of the Republic has openly communicated with the Filipino people, through public announcements after his election and after his formal assumption of office. Most of these were reiterated in his first State of the Nation Address.

There have been several important issues, and those whose lives gravitate around specific issues know what the official posture of the President, the Executive Branch and even most members of Congress. But, by far, the most urgent issue remains to be illegal drugs and its attendant components, particularly those who surrendered in droves, hundreds of thousands of them, and the hundreds of drug-related killings reported so far.

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In my last article, I had mentioned my view that we are almost a narco state. And I explained why just almost and not necessarily already one. The number of drug dependents and small-time pushers, now at already shocking levels so early in the game, give us an idea where we are. From these numbers will be estimated the hundreds of billions that are involved. And from the hundreds of billions earned and spent in the illegal drug trade, we have that sickening feeling just how many politicians, bureaucrats, law enforcers and businessmen have directly and indirectly (but knowingly), driven, aided or abetted this evil to now become a national cancer.

Many of us are alarmed about drug-related killings, and we should be. Why, then, were we not alarmed when these killings have been happening all these last few decades? Because they were not as massively reported by traditional media (these were not considered important enough then)? Or, because they happened to affect mostly only the poor? Did we never realize that drugs became the single most important cause of violence, deaths, and crimes that sent thousands to jail or prison? Were we just asleep? Or uncaring because, no matter how widespread, they did not yet touch a parent, a brother or sister, a friend?

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A narco state necessarily involves not only the making, sale, distribution and addiction of millions but most serious of all – violence. Violence is the natural consequence of a narco state, just as greed, corruption and addiction. At the moment, if we are to believe the highest estimate of those killed so far in drug-related cases, we may have 600. But if more than 90% of our barangays are affected, there will have to be another 44,000 killings to have just one per barangay. In Colombia’s and Mexico’s drug war, hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost to violence.

This is why I am not yet convinced that we are a narco state, and why I am convinced we can intervene early enough to make sure we do not become one. How, then, to do that?

Many would like to go to the pulpit to condemn the killings. Let them, but the killings won’t stop, because the addiction won’t stop, because the demand won’t stop. Some will go to the rostrums in the Senate or House of Representatives. Let them, but the killings won’t stop, because the addiction won’t stop, because the demand won’t stop. They are not wrong to say killings are wrong, killings are a sin, killings are a crime – but the killings won’t stop.

If addiction is everywhere, and it seems to be so because the surrenderees are coming from everywhere, let us then be everywhere, too. Let those who care for the lives of our youth especially, even the poor whom we don’t know, let us be everywhere as well. Let us care for drug dependents as our own, victims of an evil scourge more than anything.

Drug addiction is a community problem even before it becomes national in character. But when community after community abdicates its responsibility towards its own, the small tumor spreads and becomes national – and that is what it is today.

Let us meet it head-on on community level, then, even if it only means caring for the victims and encouraging them to change their lives. Let communities become the environment that nurtures change. It is not apathy against extrajudicial killings that is a nightmare, it is the addiction of millions, mostly young, mostly Christian and Muslim, that is the nightmare that we must wake up from.

Because the challenge posed by the hundreds of thousands of drug dependents and small-time pushers who have surrendered is everywhere, then our response must be everywhere, too. By recording their surrender, by documenting their names and addresses, and then sending them home because the mayors and the police cannot do anything else, we are releasing people who now are more in danger than ever. Because they did not only surrender, not only promise to change, but many gave delicate information as well – information that points to the more guilty, to the sources of drugs, to the protectors of the sources, to the financiers of the drug business.

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Most of us who are concerned are not armed, not trained, not oriented to fight the perpetrators. And we do not want to, in fact. We are concerned, we would like to save lives, we would like to transform lives. And we will.

We can establish community care centers where the surrenderees can be mandated to go for discipline and guidance. These community care centers can be any place, a park, a football or basketball field, covered courts, chapels and churches, anywhere.

We can form caretaker teams, we can show that those who care are more than those in danger, those who have to be cared for. Caretaker teams can be comprised by volunteers, ready to be virtual parents, teachers, guidance counselors, and always assisted by the police, barangay and town officials.

We can develop programs that approximate the purposes and modalities that successful rehab institutions do. These programs understand that old habits must be dismantled and new ones put in place. Numerous activities can be mandatory for surrenderees, activities that make them healthy and are beneficial to the community, too. They can plant trees, grow food, clean the streets, repair or paint schools and other buildings, and even learn a sport or two.

Attendance is strictly mandatory and will be monitored. The progress of the surrenderees will be monitored, documented and reported to those who have official custody of them – the PNP and the LGU.

A small group of individuals with the same deep concern as many have already developed the concept and program. Newly registered as Hopeburst Foundation, it has some members coming from long years of drug rehab experience and others with community development work learned from Gawad Kalinga. Hopeburst has already shared its concept and program to a few governors and bishops, all of whom are embracing these enough to prepare for their experimentation. The governors and bishops of Cavite, Southern Leyte and Palawan have agreed to build models of communities accepting their responsibilities to take care of their own.

In the initial work, many churches, classrooms, gyms and unused buildings will become community care centers (CCC), and many parish and barangay workers the core of the caretaker teams (CT). Bishops, governors, mayors and the PNP provide the official and moral support, plus available resources. But the key are the caretaker teams, community members willing to save and transform the victims, lend their hearts, wisdom, expertise and time. Hopeburst Foundation is willing to share in detail its renewal & recovery from drugs (RRD) program.

In the end,we have no choice. It does not matter what template we follow for as long we take our collective life into our active hands. We have to build therapeutic communities however that is defined, everywhere we have to, and in the process, build the environment that shields our young from threats and empowers them to pursue dreams instead of fantasies. That way, from an almost narco state, we can build a strong and proud nation, a future full of hope.

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