By Mar S. Arguelles
LEGAZPI CITY --- “Where have all the drug addicts gone?”
This is the question posed by health authorities here, as they started validating and sorting out tens of thousands of illegal drug users that have voluntarily surrendered to the police as a result of the government’s bloody war against illegal drugs.
The campaign on illegal drugs by the Philippine National Police (PNP) popularly known as Project “Tokhang” was temporarily suspended by Pres. Rodrigo Duterte after some of its police officials and members of the police force were found involved in the illegal drug trade or suspected to be coddlers of big time illegal drug syndicates.
Police Chief Supt. Melvin Ramon Buenafe, Bicol police regional director, said that for the period July last year to January 30 this year at least 86,607 illegal drug personalities voluntarily
surrendered to various police units in the six provinces of Bicol.
Buenafe said of the figure, 93 percent or 80,653 were users while only 7 percent or 5,954 were qualified as pushers.
When asked where these drug surrenderees are now, Police Senior Inspector Maria Luisa Calubaquib PNP Bicol spokesperson said they were allowed to return home after undergoing screening and documentation.
After police documentation, the names of these illegal drug users were compiled and turned over to their respective local government units for further assessment and categorization by a core team, Calabuquib said.
Asked about the whereabouts of these drug addicts that surrender, Calabaquib said, “after we turned over their names to the LGUs, they (LGU) should now follow up their status.”
An Inter-agency Task Force (TF) for the establishment of drug abuse treatment and rehabilitation centers was created by Pres. Rodrigo Duterte through Executive Order No. 4 dated July 2016.
The TF is composed of technical personnel from the Departments of Interior and Local Government (DILG), Health (DOH), Justice (DOJ), Social Welfare (DSWD), TESDA, local Anti-Illegal Drug Abuse Councils (BADAC), the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) conducts validation and categorization whether the drug dependents cases mild, moderate and severe.
As this developed, Dr. Evy Sarmiento, coordinator of the Department of Health (DOH) Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment Program, in an interview said that as of Dec. 31 last year only 4,051 illegal drug dependents were validated and assessed as to the extent of the surrenderees’ drug addiction.
Based on the number of illegal drug users that underwent validation and assessment by the DOH technical staff, the figure represents only 4 percent of those that surrendered.
Sarmiento said of those validated and assessed 1,446 patients belong to the low risk category while 1,367 cases/ patients are considered mild, 989 are moderate and 249 are severe cases that needs to undergo treatment.
Sarmiento said the initial report came from towns in the provinces of Albay, Sorsogon and Camarines Sur.
She said, “we expect more to come, this are initial data, other provinces are still in the process of screening and validating.”
Asked why it takes a long process to assess and categorized those drug personalities, Sarmiento said “natatagalan dahil marami itong dinadaanan, the process starts from Tokhang, to the LGU-Core Team for assessment, screening, categorization and finally treatment.”
Sarmiento said there are LGUs who don’t have qualified personnel to properly handle drug cases so the agency is still in the process of training personnel at the town and provincial levels, adding “we need to train people in handling these drug dependents.”
Sarmiento laments that of the number of severe cases; only 89 were referred by the core team to undergo treatment in a rehabilitation center.
Sarmiento quoting a study by the United Nations (UN) Office of Drugs and Criminality indicates that only 1 to 2 percent of the categorized drug dependent cases undergo treatment in a drug rehabilitation center.
In explaining the drug categorization process, Sarmiento said patients belonging to the low risk category are those drug users that would undergo intervention by attending a month-long seminar on illegal drug use and prevention.
While drug users considered in the high risk are categorized into Mild where drug user have to undergo community based intervention in LGU sponsored seminars for 3 months.
Moderate cases would be accommodated as outpatients in designated treatment and rehab centers for 4 to 6 months.
While those categorized as Severe cases would be referred to Treatment and Rehabilitation Centers for 6 months treatment period.
Sarmiento said that patient with severe cases before they are accommodated in any drug rehabilitation center are required to submit a court order, physical examination from a DOH accredited physician and psychiatrist clearance.
The agency has released P1.5 million fund to the Bicol Regional Teaching Hospital in Albay, and Bicol Medical Center and Bicol Sanitarium in Camarines Sur to finance the expenses for laboratory examinations of indigent drug addicts. She added.
In Bicol, there are only two Drug Rehabilitation Centers which are located in Malinao, Albay and San Fernando, Camarines Sur. Both institutions have 150 bed capacity, Sarmiento said.
For drug rehabilitation treatment, a patient has to spend P3,000 monthly or P18,000 for a 6-month treatment period.
“Many poor families of these drug addicts could not afford the treatment fee. They then refuse or shy away from the treatment program; we then asked the LGUs to set aside funds to assist an indigent patient,” Sarmiento said.
In a recently held Regional Peace and Order Council (RPOC) meeting it was disclosed that while the government’s war against illegal drugs went in full throttle in Bicol, the campaign found problems on the aspect of rehabilitation and treatment of thousands of drug personalities that have surrendered or were arrested during police anti-narcotics operations.
The intense campaign against illegal drug in Bicol took off July last year; however, the operations were saddled with hitches such as proper handling of drug dependents, treatment and rehabilitation.
The bloody war against illegal drugs claimed the lives of at least 88 persons who reportedly resisted and put up a fight with police operatives during buy bust operations.
Buenafe told the RPOC that of those surrenderees, at least 822 were government employees and elected barangay officials.
Buenafe said from July 1, 2016 to Jan. 18 this year showed that 466 of the 580 barangays have been “cleared” of the illegal drug problem.
PDEA records show that there were 580 barangays or 16.7 percent of the total 3,471 barangays in the region which were deemed drug-affected at the time that the intensified anti-drug campaign ws launched middle of last year.
“The remaining 20 percent or 114 barangays of the total drug-affected barangays are still under the PNP’S clearing operation,” Buenafe said.
Legazpi City Mayor Noel Rosal, newly installed RPOC chairperson, disclosed that there were local officials and police officers in Bicol that are included in the narco list that President Duterte presented during a dialogue with the Mayors in Malacanang.
As this developed, Albay Gov. Al Francis Bichara in an interview said the province is ready to put up a drug rehabilitation center in barangay Tula tula in Ligao City.
Bichara said at least ten big 40-foot containers donated by friends and supporters are ready to be set up as shelters at the one-hectare rehabilitation site.
Bichara, however, questioned the procedures as to how many of those that surrendered are considered as severe, moderate and light cases.“As a standard practice, the rehab centers could only accommodate patients of severe drug problem,” the governor explained.
He said that drug dependents’ categories should be determined first as these would be the basis of how many drug rehab centers should be put up.
“Without the numbers and the categorization of drug patients we would not be able to provide the much needed intervention,” he stressed.