FIVE years since President Duterte’s war on drugs began, it continues to draw headlines, as local and international groups seek a reckoning for what is seen as too huge a “collateral damage” in the crackdown on ruthless, powerful syndicates.
Unfortunately, most of what is seen as collateral damage involves little people who were either small pawns in a massive network of criminals; people with a past association with drug use and ended up on some petty bureaucrat’s list; victims of a revenge by parties with some personal grudge; or, simply, people at the wrong place at the wrong time, conveniently included by some bloodthirsty or overzealous lawmen eager to up the ante.
Whether the campaign—or the manner it was conducted—was legal or otherwise remains a point of contention. But beyond that, some broken lives must be rebuilt, even as those lost forever to state forces’ bungling can never be restored.
One such broken life struggling to recover is Sharon Cubanon (not her real name), 35, who spent two years in detention for what she claims was a simple mistake that cops refuse to own. She was having a quiet afternoon in Camarin, Caloocan, when a group of policemen swooped down on their home and invited her and the nephew of her common-law husband for questioning. She was told that they were going to be released later.
“Nadamay lang sa isang police operation, may masabi lang na nahuli, kasi dahil sa quota. Ang kaso ko daw po ay mistaken identity, sumama na daw ako kasi me itatanong, papauwiin din daw ako, hinold kami ng pamangkin ng asawa ko, two years kaming nakulong, in violation of RA 511 .”
Two years passed, and after their plea-bargain agreement, she went to the local Caloocan Anti-Drug Abuse Office (CADAO) and spent six months in rehabilitation and training on entrepreneurship and self-sufficiency.
“I got some goods to sell from CADAO, I displayed these in front of my house like a mini-talipapa—vegetables, fish, among others. Our dream is for my mini-talipapa to become a full-fledged small market because I suffered for two years. The guilty should have been in jail, but when I was inside, I reflected on my life. People are not perfect and sometimes we do things that aren’t so good, and then I realized I can forgive and deepen my faith in God,” Cubanon said, mostly in Filipino.
Eloisa Aranas, 58, of Bagong Barrio, was gripped by fear when her name came out on a list in 2016. The mother of nine children said she had been “clean” for five years and was starting her new life as an employee in a canteen inside a private school.
She said she was doing drugs before 2010, but had been clean for five years. Why her name came out on a list still puzzles her.
Curiosity, she recalled, was behind her first outing with the illegal substance. “I was wondering why many people liked it, and wondered what it had.” She was tending to her junk shop, so to keep her busy and alert, she started taking the substance until she realized she was already hooked.
Fast forward: when she was summoned by the Barangay Captain, she immediately availed herself of the balik-loob project, because of her fear of Tokhang, the term coined by Duterte and his police chief to describe their style—knocking on doors. “Natakot po ako kasi tumapat sa bahay namin ’yung mga pulis, ang dami nila, puno ng pulis ang buong bahay ko. Pinipilit nila ako isama, me tinabig pa akong photographer dahil kuha nang kuha ng litrato, sabi ko nga e, ‘bakit ka ba kuha ng kuha e di naman ako mamamatay tao.’ Tumanggi akong sumama, sabi ko ‘huwag na po, sir, ako na lang po magpapa-drug test sa sarili ko,’ hindi po ako sumakay, ang nasa isip ko kagad totokhangin nila ako. May mga natokhang sa kabilang barangay, kung sumama ako, e sigurado na na-tokhang na ako.”
Her children were angry after she went to the barangay, she said. But after she completed the six months’ training in CADAO, she was soon welcomed back by her children.
“So now, I sell people food for breakfast. I buy vegetables as well because at the carinderia, I’m a seller and buyer at the same time.”
Aranas has a word or two to the would-be drug users, and even those still doing it: “Huwag na po nila balakin, sa mga nagamit pa, ihinto niyo na, huwag niyo ituloy .”
Now a grandmother, Noralyn Lopez, 47, also of Bagong Barrio, Caloocan, said she was happy with her decision to avail herself of the balik-loob program, “Kusa po akong sumuko, sabi ko sa mga anak ko, para sa kanila ito. Pagkatapos po ng pagsuko ko e kinontak ako ng CADAO. After ng six months na training, involved na ako sa madaming activity, sarap ng pakiramdam ng may mga taong pwede pang magtiwala sa iyo, kaya tuloy-tuloy ang pag-iwas sa droga para sa apo ko.”
These three women (their real names are not disclosed here)have stories that provide some hope, amid the sense of despair and disgust sparked by the killing of teenager Kean de los Santos in 2017, who the court found was murdered by three Caloocan cops who took him and insisted he was a drug suspect who “fought back.” The trio has been convicted, and Kean remains the poster boy for the innocent victims of the drug war.
Program by professionals
These three women, meanwhile, are graduates of a program created by professionals.
According to CADAO head Atty. Sikini Labastilla, they trained doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists and health workers in handling the rehabilitation of former drug users and dependents. The program wanted the participants to learn self-sufficiency and entrepreneurship.
When he was part of the Department of Health program to assess and evaluate the participants, they found out that the levels of drug users are different. They wanted to take care of everyone from those with severe addiction to “leisure users,” but definitely the program needed to be science-based.
“Imagine that in 2016 they said that we have 5 million drug users. Assuming the numbers were right, we only have a 50,000-bed capacity in both public and private facilities. So we came out with an idea that we should assess the level of addiction—whether, following the law, a person must be considered an in-patient or must be jailed—without, of course, the tokhang factor,” he explained, partly in Filipino.
Now, CADAO has produced 1,694 graduates integrated into society. “Actually our participants have evolved, they wanted to work in their own small group, like a cooperative, it is like a Grameen type, where everyone is an investor and guarantor at the same time.”
After organizing the graduates into several groups, Labastilla is very upbeat that the skills they have learned from the program will keep their investments tight and working.
Enter: foodpanda and 7-Eleven
NOW, the initiative has partnered with foodpanda and 7-Eleven, two of the most omnipresent brands in the country.
While helping farmers up north in the delivery of their produce, 7-Eleven came up with the idea that their empty delivery trucks can be loaded with a lot of produce on the way back, which—with the help of an NGO and local governments, initially in Caloocan—can be resold by beneficiaries such as the graduates of CADAO.
Thus, BuyAnihan was born.
The country’s leading food delivery digital platform firm foodpanda and Philippine Seven Corporation, operator of the 7-Eleven chain of 24-hour stores, partnered with the Caloocan City government for BuyAnihan Palengke, a livelihood program that offers beneficiaries not only a lifeline but a steady source of income.
It will principally benefit people who are barely holding on to hope—reformed drug dependents finding it difficult to land jobs, families of delivery riders in search of additional incomes, and repatriated OFWs looking for a fresh start—while assuring fair prices for farmers and fresh produce for consumers.
Congressional support for BuyAnihan
A key supporter of BuyAnihan is Rep. Dale Malapitan, whose commitment of support was crucial to the program’s launch and future success.
Malapitan said one of the target beneficiaries of the program, former drug dependents, are especially in need of a livelihood source in keeping with the concept of dealing with drug dependency as an entire society.
Speaking on behalf of the city government, Malapitan thanked foodpanda PH, 7-Eleven and the diocese of Caloocan City for joining hands with city officials in developing the livelihood program.
Many of the jobless reside in Caloocan City. As the drug menace bore down on Caloocan, many residents also found themselves unable to make ends meet because of their inability to land jobs.
This explains the involvement in the project of the CADAO and the Asian Society of Community Rehab Practitioners (Ascorp), a local nonprofit organization. These two organizations will identify the beneficiaries and also provide training to ensure the sustainability of their business.
Vision for BuyAnihan
Daniel Marogy, foodpanda managing director, said BuyAnihan is meant to open doors for the underserved sectors to sell fresh farm produce, learn the ropes as small business owners, and grant their communities access to fresh fruits and vegetables at fair prices.
For Caloocan City, foodpanda Philippines is set to invest an initial seed capital of P2 million to help BuyAnihan Palengke beneficiaries start their fresh produce reselling venture.
Through BuyAnihan, the beneficiaries won’t just wait to be given fish but be able to fish themselves.
“We want to build their confidence and lead them towards the path of financial independence,” Marogy said. He also emphasized the huge role of 7-Eleven in linking rural farmers with urban community resellers under this livelihood scheme.
Victor Paterno, CEO of Philippine Seven Corp., committed the use of 7-Eleven delivery vehicles to pick up produce directly from farms and deliver these to BuyAnihan Palengke community resellers.
Malapitan said foodpanda PH and 7-Eleven serve as models for other companies that wish to help local governments care for constituents impacted by the global pandemic.
Image courtesy of Bernard Testa