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'Rugby:' cheap high for city's street kids (First of two parts)

CEBU, Philippines – A woman was walking on a flyover along Osmeña Boulevard when a small kid suddenly grabbed her blouse and stretched his hand to her as a sign of asking for something while his other hand holds a plastic containing a yellowish substance.

Aghast and caught off-guard, the woman took some coins from her bag and put them into the boy’s grimy palm. Then he runs to a pack of children huddled together in one part of the flyover, sniffing plastics of strong and addictive industrial glue, commonly known as “rugby.”

A familiar scene?

Many people have actually experienced such scenario. In fact, a lot of complaints have already been raised against the proliferation of rugby-sniffing minors in the busy streets of Cebu City but it seems they still continue to grow in number.

Worse, aside from being eyesores, these young people are actually not just ordinary kids—most of them steal, snatch and rob, while some are involved in fraternities and street gangs.

Even at daytime you can see them on the sidewalks, flyovers, under bridges, and lurking in the corners of the streets with a plastic of rugby.

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Many observers are alarmed because there is big possibility that these children, instead of being the hope of this motherland, will become big-time criminals of the future.

Reports had it that street gangs started with these solvent-sniffing youngsters.

Wandering Wild

More than a month ago, 13 “rugby boys” who were arrested by the police ended up spending an afternoon detained in a police patrol car after four agencies declined to accept them since they were filled to capacity with other wayward kids.

Elements of Fuente police station rounded up the boys from different areas under their jurisdiction in an effort to eliminate the proliferation of these eyesores from the city’s streets.

But because of the lack of proper agency where to turn over them, the police eventually referred the kids to the barangay, which, in turn released them to their respective parents.

Data from the Cebu City Police Office show that from January to December 2008, there were only 21 cases involving the use of volatile substance (rugby) in the city and the same number of cases recorded from January until March this year. The data do not yet include the recent 41 suspected rugby kids who were rounded up by the policemen in the barangays of Calamba and Sambag and other areas in the city.

CCPO director Patrocinio Comendador said they do not consider the matter alarming “since highly urbanized cities not only in our country but also in other nations as well are confronted by this similar concern.”

“The data that we have now states that these rugby boys are not that many but are composed of at least four families mostly living in the aqueducts of Mango Avenue river,” he explained.

But The FREEMAN’s readers observed otherwise.

For the past months, several readers of The FREEMAN have aired concerns about sightings of rugby-sniffing minors in conspicuous places in the city even in broad daylight. Among these places where they claimed they saw these young solvent addicts are flyovers, especially the ones near the Fuente-Osmeña circle, under the bridge along N. Bacalso Avenue, the crowded downtown area and even at the Magellan’s Cross kiosk, a famous tourist attraction located just in front of the city hall.

According to the report of Dr. Irma Makalinao (Solvent Abuse and Toxicity: The Philippine Experience), inhalants like rugby ranked fifth among the most common abused drugs/substances in the country comprising 3.38 percent of the total number of the drug dependents after metamphetamine (shabu) with 84.45 percent; marijuana with 31.7 percent; cough and cold, 3.73 percent and Benzodiazepines, 3.72 percent.

In the Philippines, especially in industrialized cities like Cebu, she added that rugby is becoming a rampantly-abused substance.

“The relative ease of procuring this substance due to its low cost and relatively accessibility contributed significantly to its widespread abuse among Filipino children,” Makalinao stressed.

The story of ‘Buknoy’

 “Buknoy” (not his real name), 15, has dropped out of school when he was eight because his parents could no longer afford to send him to school.

He is the second child in the brood of six—the eldest of which is 17 and the youngest is just one month old.

His father is the only one supporting the family through his measly income from peddling eyeglasses in the streets.

For the past seven years, Buknoy had made the streets his home. He has roamed almost all the corners of the city to scour for money just to buy a plastic of rugby. And he admitted he can have as much as 23 “sessions” a day!

“Nasunog na gani ni akong ilong. Bahala’g di ko kakaon basta ka-rugby lang ko. Usahay upat ka adlaw di ko katulog kay sabog kaayo ko…pula kaayo ako mata ug ilong (My nose is already burnt. I don’t care about food as long as I sniff rugby. Sometimes I can’t sleep for four days because I’m too high…my eyes and nose are very red),” he enthused.

This is because, he said, when he is high, he no longer feel the need for food or the urge to sleep. This explains why at the age of 15, Buknoy is no taller and bigger than a 12-year-old boy.

Buknoy recalled that he started using solvent when he was 13 through the insistence of a cousin. When his father learned about it, he got very angry and beat him that made him ran away from home and never returned for several weeks. This made him more attached to the other rugby addicts in the streets.

“Kung dili ko maka-rugby maglain akong lawas…tulala ko sa amoa (If I can’t sniff rugby I feel ill and my mind is blank),” the boy said, adding he buys rugby in a store or from a known “rugby queen” at P5 a daub or what they refer to as “takos.”

“Kung sabog ko trip nako mangulata. Usahay mangawat sa silingan para makakwarta (When I’m high I want to hurt others. Sometimes I would steal from neighbors for money),” said Buknoy, quickly clarifying that not all the money that he gets from whatever means goes to rugby. “Ako pod usahay tagaan akong mama kay maluoy ko. Gusto ko makatabang sa ako ginikanan (But sometimes I give money to my mother because I pity her. I also want to help my parents).”

Aside from being a rugby addict,” Buknoy is also a member of “Bloods,” a notorious street gang that often figures in a rumble with the rival gang “Crips.”

Buknoy said their favorite hangouts are billiard halls along Sanciangko Street and the flyovers near the Fuente-Osmeña circle.

They would sniff rugby by group, and sometimes, there are boys that are as young as three and four years old that join them.

Buknoy said that aside from rugby, he has also tried using the injectable Nubain, marijuana and “Boracay.”

“Boracay” is the term they refer to different kinds of illegal drugs that are mixed together like shabu, marijuana and ecstacy, he explained. “Paghuman nako og gamit ato (Boracay) murag di ko kabangon (After I finished taking it, I could hardly get up),” he described the experience.

Two years ago, he was among those rounded up by the Cebu City Task Force on Street Children and was brought to the Pari-an Drop-In Center but was later allowed to go home.

“Okay lang madakpan ko. Ila ko’ng dalhon sa Parian (Drop-In Center), Balay Pasilungan, sa Second Chance (Operation Second Chance) basta di lang ko kulatahon (It’s okay if I get apprehended. They could bring me to Parian, Balay Pasilungan or the Second Chance, as long as they will not beat me),” Buknoy said.

Asked if he still wants to go back to school, the boy said, “Ganahan unta ko moeskwela, pero pagkakaron naningkamot ko makakwarta aron makatabang ko’s akong ginikanan (I want to go back to school but as of now, I want to earn money to help my parents).”

But with the kind of situation Buknoy has got himself into, will he still have a better future? – THE FREEMAN

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