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Fr. Jerome R. Secillano, MPA
The overwhelming, high trust rating of the President seems to imply that Mr. Duterte is doing what is right for the country. Some, though, easily questioned the integrity of surveys and even downplayed their worth. But the President’s devoted supporters, particularly on social media all the more expressed firm support for him and claimed that his critics are the ones to blame for the problems besetting the country.
Well, the President has noble plans for the country. His intention to free the country from the drug problem and corruption is very admirable. I think, no one in his right mind would dare question such principled stance. Same with his intention to keep the West Philippine Sea, put an end to contractualization, increase the take home pay of soldiers and policemen, raise the Social Security System (SSS) pension, waive public school tuition fees, have our own independent foreign policies, put an end to armed rebellion, and many others. These are populist declarations, which we have already heard in the past, but his resolute political will to make these happen is what sets him apart from other leaders who came ahead of him.
But these are mere intentions, the implementation of which cannot be carried out so easily. The internal government systems and the political circumstances we have practically prevent the timely and immediate execution of what the President sees as needed by the country. No wonder, the President would occasionally quip about arrogating to himself the vast powers of the State to make decision-making a one-man act without the usual nitty-gritty of bureaucratic requirements. This also prompted Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno to say that, “the Rodrigo Duterte during the campaign is not the same as the Rodrigo Duterte now that he is president”.
It’s easy to blame Diokno for what seems to be a stupid remark, but that is the truth. All policies needed to be studied. They cannot simply be formulated and then implemented at the behest of somebody without diligently studying both its impacts and externalities. In policy-making, externalities are the unintended results or effects of a policy. They are usually objectionable effects that should not simply be overlooked.
Hence, the two-thousand-peso promise for SSS pensioners, though believed to be practically beneficial, was decreased to one thousand because the former, according to studies, will be detrimental in the long run to all SSS stakeholders. This is also true for the promised bonuses for soldiers and policemen. The Department of Budget explained that it will be hard-pressed to look for funds for the staggering amount that will be spent for our Armed and Police Forces. The fulfillment of this promise, therefore, will have to wait a little longer than expected.
The country’s ownership claim of the West Philippine Sea also hit a snag despite the favorable ruling of the arbitral tribunal in The Hague. We do not know what’s keeping the government from asserting the country’s rights to it, but what stood out during the 2016 election campaign was the brave promise of a candidate to ride a jet ski to Panatag Shoal and plant the Philippine flag on its shore.
Lastly, we heard that the candidate who eventually won in the election is now playing footsie with his Chinese counterpart while howling at his critics that it is plain stupidity to go to war with China. But nobody, I guess, even expressed the slightest hint of waging war against China as we pursue our rights over the disputed territory. So, while the Chinese are fortifying their forces in the contested islands, the President is busy picking on his critics, especially the Church, and berating some bishops over the so-called extra judicial killings (EJKs) linked to the country’s drug problem.
Realistically, the drug problem cannot be eradicated in six months as the President has promised. Mexico and Colombia, countries known as havens of drug manufacturing and trafficking, continue until today to wage war against drugs to no avail.
The rampant killings as a result of this war on drugs seem to be a losing strategy. But, I still commend the President for at least exposing to the public the gravity of the drug problem and for addressing the involvement of politicians and hoodlums both in robes and in uniforms as either protectors or members of drug syndicates. But to rebuke the Church and hurl invectives at the bishops because they criticize EJKs is not only foul but also disdainful. Worse, the President’s accusations are supported merely by unfounded allegations from a book that contained at best “ecclesiastical rumors”.
When protesting against the rampant killings happening all over the country, the Church does not claim moral superiority over others. The Church’s criticism of EJKs stems not merely from the moral standpoint but from the legal perspective as well. Since when was murder legalized?
Critics should not expect the Church to preach support for murder. To do so means to go against the explicit command of God not to kill and to violate existing legal laws which our government itself enacted.
The Church does not condone criminals and the proliferation of drugs. Criminals should be punished and illegal drugs should be eradicated. But killing with impunity is not the way to solve the problem, rather, it exacerbates the problem.
The Church, in helping the government address the drug issue, formulated community-based programs that include, among others, psycho-spiritual counseling, retreats, catechetical instructions, livelihood training, sports, and other physical activities as well as other kinds of formation not only for drug dependents but also for their families. And contrary to the allegations of critics, the Church in fact, built several drug rehabilitation facilities that can be found in Masbate, Naga City, Cebu City, and Bulacan.
The Church is not the President’s enemy. It is actually helping the government address the problem in the way it can. It is unfair to even think that the Church would not want the President to succeed. The Church supports his best intentions, but will consistently go against strategies that are illegal, unethical, and immoral.
For many Filipinos, Mr. Duterte is their best chance to make life better. For them, the President’s unorthodox approach to issues is like a breath of fresh air that forebodes a bright future for the country.
Similarly, when Glasnost and Perestroika became the foundation of reforms in the now defunct Soviet Union, the Soviets were very ecstatic and hopeful. It was for them the beginning of change and an end to the repressive communist regimes. But it was too late for them to realize that the reform movement lacked the spirit it promised prompting Alexander Yakovlev, an ally of Mikhail Gorbachev, to say, “It seems to me that there is a lot of theatricality and exaggeration in this confusion of minds, this whirlwind of events, outburst of emotions and ambitions”. Simply put, the Soviet people felt that they practically “suffered a victory” in spite of reforms anchored on “socialism with a human face”.
Lest we forget, despite the good intentions of our present leadership, killing now seems to be the “new normal”, signs of authoritarianism are already apparent, disregard for basic human rights is now evident, and unfulfilled promises are now piling-up. They’re not good indicators of a promising future but they are possibly clues that under this administration, “change SCAMMING”!
Fr. Carmelo O. Diola
Spaces of Hope
It is difficult to contain my joy.
When I first met some Tokhang surrenderers of Barangay Subangdako in Mandaue City, they were unkempt and could not even look you in the eye, their eyes seemingly always downcast. They just mumbled their answers, in one to three incoherent words, whenever you asked them a question. Fear and suspicion were written on their faces. They were in a different world.
But that was Friday, Aug. 19, 2016 during our first Lectio Divina session with about 20 recovering addicts at the garden of Barangay Subangdako. Two Sundays later, on Aug. 28, we organized a family gathering of the surrenderees, which brought in about 90 of them. We offered them an opportunity to join a pathway to recovery–all of six months beginning with assessment and ending with reintegration. About 25 signed up, although our evening sessions ballooned to 50 or even 80 participants.
We decided to call the program “Labang” from “Lahat Bangon” a play on words mixing Tagalog (“Lahat Bangon” = “All rise up” or “All get involved”) and Cebuano (“Labang” = “to cross or pass over”). “Subangdako” seems to fit in nicely since it refers to “big river”. There is an exodus of sorts here.
Now on their sixth month of daily interventions from volunteer groups within and outside the barangay, the 25 “Labangers” are about to graduate from the program, all of them negative of drugs as their drug tests confirm. But more than that, they have found themselves and have found a larger family. After all, as one best-selling books on the war on drugs, Chasing the Scream, puts it: “The opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety. It’s connection.”
“Labang” is a Community-Based Rehab Program (CBRP). The 25 clients now belong to a different world. They have rediscovered the joys of neatness and of taking care of themselves. They look at you straight in the eye and a wide grin is never far from them. When they talk, they let out a stream of coherent words. They will soon undergo training under TESDA and job opportunities beckon. They plan activities and manifest hope.
Yes, it is difficult to contain my joy.
Every Friday evening, my Dilaab team and I conduct a Lectio Divina for “Labangers”. On first Fridays, we celebrate Mass. During these sessions, we divide ourselves into small group to listen to life testimonies. Members of the small groups belong to the same sitio so as to correspond to nascent BECs. I asked two of my team members to share what stories have touched them most.
One is that of a jeepney driver who has been an addict for 20 years. He was familiar with all the distribution points of illegal drugs. Oftentimes, his wife would be searching for him since he would not go home. He joined Labang but without the intention of mending his ways even if, in his words, there would be “five Dutertes.” But he found himself changing as he underwent the modules, particularly Lectio Divina. His craving for drugs ceased and his new “addiction” is attending the activities of “Labang.” He attends the sessions even if this means some loss in income since his body and mind craves the interventions.
Another story is that of a husband who was an addict and a wife who was sober. He had given up on his responsibilities for the family. The wife had called him “demonyo”, and his children referred to him as “adik”. His wife found it hard to believe that he was taking his recovery seriously when he joined “Labang.” There was an instance when he asked his wife to accompany him to Sunday Mass and she refused since she did not believe him. But gradually, she saw him transform. At one time during the program, he experienced a “lapse”. Because of this, she resolved to accompany him even during the sessions of the rehab program. This gained her a deep appreciation of the program. For the first time, they shall be celebrating Feb.14 as husband and wife.
There is also a woman who had neglected her children due to drugs. They, in turn, developed the habit of living their lives as if she did not exist. They did not call her “Mama”. With the changes coming out of her “Labang” experience, the woman started to take care of herself and her family again. Her children have forgiven her and they now call her “Mama.”
Finally, there is the success story of a young man who had dropped out of school due to addiction. When he joined “Labang” he underwent an ALS (Alternative Learning System) module of the Department of Education. He found out he was good in mathematics and become the regional champion of ALA in mathematics.
While admittedly these are still stories in progress and that “once an addict always an addict” and that having a support group is vital for sustaining sobriety, as members of the 12-step support group for recovering addicts are quick to point out, these brave souls have discovered the true light in their lives through the holistic interventions they undergo. This is reason for joy.
The present pause in Tokhang is a welcome development. While I continue to maintain that even before the so-called vigilante killings, the drug culture was already the culture of death in the country, the conduct of the war on drugs was moving out of control. We seemed to be replacing drug addiction with another form of addiction – blood lust. This is a terrible blind spot among public officials and citizens who are advocating for a return to capital punishment. This is a short-cut to the culture of citizens lusting after blood yet with no clear gains in public order and security. Only the poor will suffer.
Operation Tokhang had resulted in a Yolanda-like scenario where all sectors are overwhelmed and looking for an adequate response. It is clear that working individually in responding to the aftermath of Tokhang, the State and the Church have reached dead-ends in their efforts. Collaboration is imperative. We need to come together bringing in and sharing our core competencies and resources.
Although this is just the first run, the first graduates of Labang show that CBRP is indeed possible when the barangay chairman and the parish priest come together and form the nucleus of an expanded UBAS (Ugnayan ng Barangay at mga Simbahan) at the grassroots level. The recent “ceasefire” in the war on drugs should provide us a breather to replicate Labang and other similar CBRPs.
Sadly, the focus of the funds that government is sourcing for its rehabilitation program for drug addicts is for the building of rehab centers. While centers are needed, it is sobering to think that, according to medical experts, only 10 percent at most of those who use drugs need to be rehabilitated in centers. In our case, only about 80 recovering addicts who were assessed needed a rehab center.
In addition, centers necessarily create artificial environments for clients since their families are not with them. When they finish their rehab, they need to be reintegrated into their community and when there is no support, relapse looms high. CBRP provides a more natural environment. Centers are also quite expensive, understandably so. In Manila, a center that charges Php30,000 monthly is already considered reasonable. In Labang, the out-of-pocket expenses, mostly on food, was about Php3,000.