The Galilee Home in Dona Remedios Trinidad (DRT). Photo by Carmela Reyes-Estrope

CITY OF BALIWAG—The rehabilitation of persons who use drugs under the anti-illegal drug war campaign of former President Rodrigo Duterte continues in Bulacan, at least in this city as its Bahay Pagbabago program and facility did not close doors while the rest in the province were shut down.

For most of the other three cities and the 20 municipalities in Bulacan, the Bahay Pagbabago only opened its doors to persons who use drugs for 2-3 years, when the former president assumed office in 2016. In 2018 and 2019, the rest of the Bahay Pagbabago in many towns and cities were closed down as municipal and city governments switched to community, home and private institutions’ care programs for persons who use drugs. 

Gov. Daniel Fernando who assumed post in 2019 said on Thursday that the stoppage of the implementation of the program indicated its success as a large number of persons who use drugs were already reformed and rehabilitated.

However, he said, the provincial government of Bulacan, the city and the municipal governments and even the barangays continue to intervene in the reformation of persons who use drugs in their respective areas through funds they provide to national government agencies in-charge in running the reformation centers but which lacks sufficient budget including other support and assistance. The provincial government also provides educational and skills training to reformists that helped them start brand new lives. In addition, the governor said, they also provide them medical and hospital support including financial assistance.  

“Ang paghinto ng programs ay indikasyon na mardami na ang nakapagtapos, ngunit patuloy pa din naman ang intervention ng kapulisan at ng provincial government sa mga community based rehabilitation program ng mga LGU/barangay and in PDEA-run Balai Silangan,” the governor added.

Baliwag Bahay Pagbabago

The Baliwag Bahay Pagbabago in Barangay Tiaong,. Photo by Carmela Reyes-Estrope

But in this city, Mayor Ferdinand Estrella continues to run his Bahay Pagbabago in the 2,000 sq. m. facility the city is renting in Barangay Tiaong for more than seven years now since 2016 in compliance to the directive of former President Duterte to all local government units (LGUs) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) to put up its own respective rehabilitation and reformation facility.

Estrella told NEWS CORE at his office last May 29 that the facility which is under the City Anti-Illegal Drug Council (CADAC) composed of the city social welfare office (CSWDO) and the city health office (CHO) and religious groups is recognized by the Bulacan Regional Trial Court (RTC) as an institution in the province where drug suspects who are charged with Section 15 (illegal drug use) of Republic Act 9165, the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 are ordered to undergo 6-months rehabilitation period. The facility runs a 3-month reformation program.

Section 15 of RA 9165 refers to “a person apprehended or arrested, who is found to be positive for use of any dangerous drug, after a confirmatory test, shall be imposed a penalty of a minimum of six (6) months rehabilitation in a government center for the first offense,” under RA 9165.

“Malaki ang naitulong ng Duterte administration sa paglaban natin sa illegal na droga kasi hanggang ngayon tuloy pa rin ang Bahay Pagbabago dito sa Baliwag. Alam ko sa ibang bayan wala nang ganun, pero dito itinuloy ko kasi gusto ko talagang matulungan ang mga naging drug dependents,” (The Duterte administration has helped a lot in the eradication of illegal drugs in Baliwag that’s why, while almost all of the Bahay Pagbabago in the rest of the province were closed down, I did not stop it in here in Baliwag because I really want to help the people who become drug dependents to recover), he said.

The Baliwag Bahay Pagbabago in Barangay Tiaong,. Photo by Carmela Reyes-Estrope

The facility now has 25 reformists including from San Ildefonso, Bustos and other towns. It had cared to close to 500 persons who use drugs ages 15-74. Some successful reformists underwent training and now work in Saudi Arabia and Japan as welders.   

Rafinal Gonzales, a nurse who heads the Baliwag Bahay Pagbabago as the program director told NEWS CORE in an interview at the site on May 27 that the weeklong activities of the reformists include an early exercise, cleaning, bath and breakfast with values formation, arts and music, group therapy, blasting and individual counselling session, sports activity and family day where the reformists are visited by their loved ones. 

Guiguinto Bahay Pagbabago

Bulacan Fifth District Representative and former Guiguinto Mayor Ambrosio C. Cruz Jr., who was also the president of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines (LMP) Bulacan Chapter during Duterte’s term said that the government intervention to help reform and rehabilitate persons who use drugs now lies in the hands of the barangay anti-drug abuse and defense council (BADAC) that aims for the barangay to be declared drug cleared and drug free.

The former mansion of a local drug queen-turned Bahay Pagbabago in Guiguinto town, now serves as an evacuation center. Photo by Carmela Reyes-Estrope

“The weight of the government intervention now lies in the hands of the barangay level through the BADAC in which individuals who are involved in illegal drugs are listed and are being monitored by the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG). The aim is to clean the list. It is being determined whether those in the lists remain listed to achieve the thrust of drug-free-and drug-cleared. They are sick, they need treatment. There are those who are hard core dependents who need to be brought to rehabilitation centers. But in the end, it is still the parents or the family’s main responsibility and the state is only there to give support the best way it can,” Cruz also said. 

BADAC, which aims to help the law enforcement agencies in the drug clearing operations in their respective territories, was created in 2017 under the Office of the President through the Dangerous Drug Board.

Guiguinto Bahay Pagbabago stopped operation in 2018 after it had catered to some 600 reformists. Cruz said the number of drug dependents had drastically dropped.

Sta. Maria Bahay Pagbabago

The Bahay Pagbabago in Sta. Maria town built next the City Land subdivision in Barangay Pulong Buhangin, was a center built solely for its purpose and was run by then chief of police of the town Col. Raniel Valones. It catered to more than 900 reformists who graduated in batches. Valones who is now assigned in the Directorate for Operations of the Philippine National Police in Camp Crame, Quezon City however told NEWS CORE through phone on May 19 that the facility stopped operating in 2018 when he left the post and was assigned in Mindanao. The Bahay Pagbabago in other towns and cities were closed down because the program has been directly under the LGUs subject to the availability of their funds, he said.  

The now considered white elephant Bahay Pagbabago in Sta. Maria town. Photo by Carmela Reyes-Estrope
The now considered white elephant Bahay Pagbabago in Sta. Maria town. Photo by Carmela Reyes-Estrope

The Sta. Maria Bahay Pagbabago which was used during the pandemic as a vaccination center is a white elephant today. 

Pulilan’s Community-based Drug Rehabilitation and Management System

In Pulilan town, Mayor Maria Rosario Ochoa-Montejo told NEWS CORE at her office on May 29 that they launched their Bahay Pagbabago in 2016 but in 2018, they opted to help rehabilitate the persons who use drugs through each family’s home care under the Community-based Drug Rehabilitation and Management System (CDRMS). Under this program, drug dependents are regularly being monitored, given counselling, health support, values formation by the municipal government in support of the love and care of their respective families.

The Pulilan municipal government also provides for its own medical doctor who specializes as a Drug Dependent Examiner needed for the CDRMS.   

Galilee Home

In the thirty three year old Roman Catholic–Malolos Diocese own and run Galilee Home rehabilitation center for persons who use drugs in Dona Remedios Trinidad (DRT) town, 40 year old former drug user Lougene Angelo now serves as the formation and discipline officer after he managed to escape from an encounter with the police in his place in Pandayan in City of Meycauayan in July 2016. 

Lougene Angelo, formation and discipline program director of Malolos Diocese rehabilitation facility Galilee Home in Dona Remedios Trinidad (DRT) inside the chapel of the institution where he leads reformists during regular daily mass. Photo by Carmela Reyes-Estrope

Angelo whose mother died when he was 10 years old while his father was working abroad when he started to cling to usage of shabu four years later, when he turned 14 told NEWS CORE on May 19 at Galilee Home that after he had sought healing and reformation under the 9-months program at Galilee Home, he chose to stay for good to help Fr. Joshua Pagtalunan, the 53 year old spiritual and executive director to manage the facility.

He said being an assistant of the priest to serve the reformists is what he discovered the purpose of his life.

According to Fr. Joshua, the Galilee is an apostolate of the Malolos Diocese that focuses on the spiritual, emotional, psychological approaches to enable a person who uses drugs. “It is spiritual that is the main approach of our healing and reformation, the faith and adherence to God in their hearts and minds and the love for others particularly to their families. These were what they lost because of their illegal drug habits or vices and these are what we are providing them back,” the priest told NEWS CORE at the Galilee Home.

Rehab is PDEA’s concern

Bulacan Police Director Col. Relly Arnedo said in an interview with NEWS CORE on May 12 that today, it is the court that declares where a person who uses drugs or a drug dependent will be brought for rehabilitation. The Bulacan provincial police office, he said, has no current reformation facility as the rehabilitation concern is now more of Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) concern including the LGUs. In most common cases, he said, drug dependents are sent to the Department of Health Treatment Rehabilitation Center in Bataan province. “Sa Bataan rehabilitation dinadala. Korte ang nagsasabi kung sa Bataan o sa saang rehabilitation dadalin. Tumutulong na doon ang LGUs at ang PDEA, concerns na nila iyon kapag nasa rehab na,” Arnedo added. 

Arnedo explained  that in almost all cases, the arrested illegal drug pushers are also persons who use drugs and who are being charged with violations to Section 5, selling, possession Section 11 and Section 15, using.

Lesser drug detainees

Today, close to 60% or 1,044 from the 1,787 detainees (1,570 male) and (217 female) inside the Bulacan Provincial Jail are charged with illegal drug cases, which is lower than the nearly 70% during the time of the former president, according to Bulacan Provincial Jail Warden Marcos Rivero. Fernando said this is also a clear indication of the success of the anti-illegal drug war campaign of the Duterte administration.

Bulacan with 32 illegal drug suspects who were killed after they exchanged fires with the police in a series of buy-busts in just one night simultaneous operations on August 15, 2017 was cited by the former president as a role model in his anti-illegal drug war.

The police has yet to release the total number of drug suspects who got killed in exchange of fires during their unrelentless buy-bust operations during Duterte’s time, however, armed police encounters have died down towards the end of the 2021 until before the former president ended his term on June 30, 2022.

City of Malolos Bahay Pagbabago reopens

City of Malolos Mayor Christian Natividad told NEWS CORE last May 15 at his office that he will re-open the city’s Bahay Pagbabago because the ages of individuals who use drugs today in the city becomes worse as it gets younger and younger–from 10 to 11 years old.

Malolos Bahay Pagbabago which is a resort in Barangay Ligas that had catered to some 6,000 drug dependents had stopped operation when he ended his term in 2019, the mayor said.

Today, he said, despite 14 out of 51 barangays of the city that are now drug cleared, still, a number of individuals returned to illegal drug activities.

“Dati sa panahon ni Duterte, 80% ng mga involve sa droga ay nawala, 20% na lang noon ang natitira at tago pa sila ng tago noon, ngayon balik na naman lahat sa droga kaya popondahan ko ulit ang Bahay Pagbabago namin,” (During the time of Duterte, 80% of those involved in illegal drugs have stopped and the only 20% which have remained have tightly squeezed their operations to hide from the  authorities, but today, they have returned to illegal drug works and worse, even as young as 10 and 11 years old got involved now that’s why I will again allot funds to open and operate anew our Bahay Pagbabago,” he told NEWS CORE.

This story was produced with the help of a grant from the Drug Policy Reform Institute (DPRI).