The journey to a second chance: The success of the San Simon Reformation Center

DRUG trafficking and abuse is a social and criminal problem that has transformed in recent years into a major threat to health and security of people and nations. Today, more than ever, it has become an alarming problem as the demand for illegal drugs continues to soar beyond control. In fact, some substances are sold openly to the market or through Internet. But the supply side is only a small part of a bigger picture because unless there are people who patronize drugs, there will still be people who will sell it.

But in the present situation, what makes the problem worse is that people, especially teenagers and young adults patronize these, sometimes out of curiosity or simply to fit in, without really understanding its impact or effects especially in their health. Use of illegal drugs can cause almost all kinds of illness including damage to brain, lungs, kidneys, physical disruption, psychological problems and even death. In addition, it can also cause HIV/AIDS as a consequence of unsafe injecting practices.

Moreover, it can also cause families to break apart. It can cause crimes especially when an individual is high on drugs and does not have control over his actions. Drug trafficking can also be a source of corruption because of the millions of pesos general through illegal trade. In general, there is no positive effect that can be derived out of using illegal drugs; rather it is a source of fear and instability.

With so much at stake, the battle against illegal drugs must be a shared responsibility among all individuals and organizations. Everyone of us shares the responsibility of forging effective solutions to totally eradicate this. The government has the responsibility to counteract both drug trafficking and drug abuse, but communities can also contribute.

This concept, and also in support of the Duterte Administration’s thrust to eradicate illegal drug trade, has led the local government of San Simon in Pampanga to partner with the religious sector in operationalizing the “Bahay Pagbabago” Reformation Center in their town.

Oplan Sagip Bato

Only two weeks after President Duterte assumed his position, San Simon was able to report a total of 461 dug surrenderers. Of the total number, 347 were referred to be admitted inside the town’s Bahay Pagbabago after a series of screening and assessment conducted by the Rural Health Unit (RHU) staff. These 347 individuals were classified as “moderate risk”. Twenty six, or those who were assessed as “high risk” were referred to the Mega TRC in Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija, while 18 individuals entered under the out-patient community based program for being “low risk” and occasional drug users.

Forty-seven of those who were referred to be admitted inside San Simon’s Bahay Pagbabago make up the first batch of reformists. Having found their new home and new family in the company of one another, these 47 individuals are all set to leave their dark past behind in search of a clearer and brighter future waiting ahead of them.

Inside their new home, they were made to realize what opportunities they have lost when they were still under the shadows of illegal drugs. Here, they were taught to completely turn away from their vices by feeding their minds and souls through a month’s spiritual session at the “Bahay Pagbabago ni Apung Pilar”. This is followed by another couple of months inside the San Simon Reformation Center for their social sessions to teach them how to deal with the outside world once they get back in the mainstream.

Like brothers helping one another to rise from their downfall, their lives inside their new home is very much similar to the outside world, except that they are more disciplined than they were before. Many activities keep them busy, like their physical fitness trainings and the various lectures given to them.

Aside from mind conditioning that they should and must never return to their old ways, they were also given talks that will ensure they will be productive citizens once again, like talks on diseases in the workplace and are taught how to do first aid.

Prior to their graduation, they had their one month re-immersion in the community to evaluate if they are fit to be back in the mainstream or if they still need more days at the center.

Likewise, for the out patients, they have Zumba sessions and boodle fight every Saturdays and Sundays, for the local government to make sure that they still monitor the progress and transformation of every individual surrenderer.

Best Practices

The responsibility of eradicating illegal drugs does not only lie in the hands of the government. This is why families, schools, civil society and religious organizations can do their part to rid their communities of drugs. Businesses can help also provide legitimate livelihoods. The media can raise awareness about the dangers of drugs. There should be collaboration in every level to make the program work.

For its part, the local government unit ensured the activation of all its Barangay/Municipal Anti-Drug Abuse Councils (B/MADACs) and the commitment of its convenors. This is through the enactment of Executive Order No. 17LSCW15, reconstituting the MADAC of San Simon. The barangays, being the town’s first line of defense, are also tapped for screening of surrenderees.

The local government also continues to capacitate its health workers in order to efficiently carry out their task of screening surrenderers. In August 2016, they were trained by the Department of Health (DOH) for this function and they continue to roll this out to their subordinates at the grassroots level, coupled with consistent monitoring and visits of PNP and local officials in their home.

To ensure the sustainability of the center, the local government also allots cash incentives for the upgrading and operational expenses of the facility. An example is the P3 million Seal of Good Local Governance (SGLG) Award put in the center.

The endeavor also brings out a strong collaboration between the Church leaders and the local government, through a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) which taps the former for the surrenderers’ spiritual transformation.

Another good practice of the town is tapping the community in its fight against illegal drugs by forming the “Mamamayan Ayaw Tanggapin ang Droga” (MATA); as well as utilizing modern technology and coming up with a website to further intensify its advocacy versus illegal drugs.

As Mayor Leonora Wong said, the success of this advocacy depends on the surrenderers’ willingness to undergo transformation and on the commitment of everyone, regardless of sector, to contribute to make that transformation possible.

As she quoted, “The most dangerous disease in the universe is the ‘blindness of the mind’, it’s even worse than death. If the eyes of your mind is open and active, you can develop ideas that will help you and other as well, even the Bible says guide your heart (mind) with all diligence, ‘cause out of it are the issues of life. You just have to believe in ‘who’ you are, your ability and capacity will do them all.” (Marie Joy L. Simpao/PIA-3)