Nobody said it would be easy, but despite the bumps on the road, there’s a bright spot surfacing in the Philippine government’s anti-drug campaign.
For most of the president’s critics, any kind of good news may be hard to believe. Marred by reports of extrajudicial killings, human rights violations and abuse from authorities, President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs has not been received well, from sectors critical of him within the country or from international human rights watch dogs.
In less than three months since Duterte assumed office in July, the death count has surged to the 2,400 mark. Duterte’s anti-drug drive is frequently intertwined with terms like collateral damage – a euphemism for those who have died in the campaign. The latest victims include Danica May, a 5-year-old girl who was killed as gunmen aimed for her grandfather, and Ma. Aurora Moynihan, sister to actress Maritoni Fernandez. Moynihan, who was suspected of supplying the party drug ecstasy to celebrities, was shot by unidentified gunmen.
Though the president denies ordering extrajudicial killings, he has admitted to limitations in dealing with the drug menace properly. He says that his current budget does not allow him to address the rehabilitation of 3.7M drug addicts in the country.
In fact, Duterte has now had to turn to China for help, which has promised to help build rehab facilities, starting with Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija.
What is little known are the other local organizations that are quietly partnering with the government’s program to address the drug menace. One of them is SIPAG (SImula ng PAGasa) a faith-based program for drug dependents who are surrendering to the government.
SIPAG, which is an acronym that stands for “the beginning of hope,” was spearheaded by Christ’s Commission Fellowship (CCF), a Christian megachurch that has multiple satellite presence in the Philippines and abroad.
In August, SIPAG has started training volunteers at satellite branches across the nation, including in Baguio City, Olongapo, Taytay, Tandang Sora QC, and at the CCF headquarters in Pasig City.
The program aims to open doors of opportunities to minister to drug offenders, their family, the police, and local government officials. Sipag is currently in the midst of preparing for a nationwide 12-week recovery program that will encourage participants to build on their Christian faith.
Beyond the merits of the program are the human faces who are involved in it. One of them is Jose Reyes, a former drug user and pusher.
Earlier this year, Reyes delivered his testimony at CCF and talked about how he was delivered from a life of drug addiction and crime.
According to Reyes, married and father of one, he started being a delinquent when his father passed away during his first year of high school. His exposure to bad company led him to marijuana and shabu which later put him in prison for the first time in 1999. He was not only held on account of drugs but he was also charged with frustrated homicide as well.
The pattern over the years became a repetitive record for Reyes. He went in and out of jail from 1999 to 2005, the last one for pushing drugs. At this point bail was no longer an option, but it signaled the beginning of his hope.
In prison, he was invited by an inmate to attend a bible study held by the Biyahe Jail Ministry. During this meeting he surrendered his life to Jesus and vowed to serve him.
All cases charged against Reyes in December of 2006 were withdrawn. Thereafter he served in several ministries with CCF Marikina. However, one thing remained unchanged. Reyes continued to get in and out of prison.
This time he says, he goes to jail because he shares the gospel to the inmates. He is also currently serving as Jail Coordinator for the CCF Byahe Jail Ministry in the Rizal Provincial Jail.
Reyes stands as proof that there is hope for drug offenders and that they can prove to be productive members of society once rehabilitated.
For more information on the SIPAG program, contact SIPAG “Simula ng Pag-asa” by e-mail at [email protected] or call 09165122712 and 09397692465.