Drug personalities turn to church for safety
Rey Galupo (The Philippine Star) - January 18, 2017 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Drug pushers and users in Caloocan City have sought refuge in a church, saying they feel safer with priests than at their own homes.

Over 40 drug surrenderees are enrolled at the San Roque Cathedral’s anti-drug program dubbed “Salubong” headed by former parish priest James del Rosario.

 “The objective of the program, which was launched three months after President Duterte assumed office is to help the government rehabilitate those who are hooked on illegal drugs and want to mend their ways,” Del Rosario, who was transferred to the San Bartolome Parish in Malabon, said in an interview with The STAR.

He said they initiated the program after several drug pushers and users took refuge in the church for fear that they would be killed in the war on drugs.

“Those who had surrendered to police under Oplan Tokhang approached church officials asking for help so we decided to coordinate with Mayor (Oscar) Malapitan, who financed the project,” a church elder said.

Del Rosario said church and local government officials visited people on the drug watchlist and encouraged them to join the program.

The drug surrenderees are assessed and categorized from heavy to light users.

According to Del Rosario, those tagged as heavy drug users are sent to rehabilitation centers under the auspices of the Caloocan City government.

Drug surrenderees who joined the program were given livelihood assistance and training for three months.

Malapitan did not disclose the amount being spent for the program. He said the local government has sufficient funding for drug surrenderees.

Some of the surrenderees said they joined to program for “self preservation.”

 A self-confessed drug pusher known only as Ding said he went to the church because he believed that he would be safer there.

Del Rosario said their wards are monitored by church officials and police to ensure that they would not return to their old ways.

Meanwhile, Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Cardinal Quevedo denied reports that the bishops have been quiet on issues related to extrajudicial killings.

“The silence is only a perception by the media,” Quevedo, who was among the speakers during the second day of the 4th World Apostolic Congress on Mercy, said.

Quevedo said the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) issued a pastoral statement about drug killings last July.

The CBCP does not restrict its member-bishops from issuing their individual statement and they can come out with their own pastoral letter for their respective dioceses.

Quevedo said he admired President Duterte’s determination to eradicate illegal drugs and crimes.

“Those are good intentions but killing suspected drug offenders without due process is against the law,” the archbishop said. – With Evelyn Macairan 


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