Fri, 23 Aug 2019

THE KILLING of alleged drug users and petty traders makes the news on a daily basis, but the rehabilitation of drug addicts remains underreported. Few media reports have looked at the situation in the country's rehab centers, among them the largest facility in the country, the Drug Abuse Treatment and Rehabilitation Center (DATRC) in Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija.

After its inauguration in November 2016, an event prominently reported in the media, the 11-hectare center received little media attention. The few reports since its opening described the Center as underutilized, with less than a tenth of its 10,000-bed capacity occupied by "residents."

CMFR cheers The Manila Times and the Philippine Daily Inquirer for revisiting the mega rehab and uncovering the problems hounding its successful operation.

Last November 18, the Times reported that some employees of the facility, most of them psychometricians (case managers) and nurses, resigned because of delayed salaries and lack of office supplies. Sources requesting anonymity told the newspaper that they had to buy supplies with their own money just to continue the facility's operations. Some residents were allowed to "graduate" after completing only four months of rehabilitation out of the required six months to one year period.

Dr. Nelson Dancel, DATRC chief, told the Times that funds for the Center's operations were not even included in the 2018 budget of the Department of Health. The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has allocated PHP86 million for 2019.

The Inquirer had both an editorial and a news account on the subject. It reported on November 24 the Center's other problems. Quoting Dancel, the inconvenience of the location may have also added to the delay in salary payments, with some employees resigning to look for jobs closer to their homes.

The Inquirer report noted that since more than half of the 25 original case managers have resigned, the remaining ones have to attend to 50 residents each, which is twice the ideal ratio.

Its editorial on November 27 recalled former Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) chair Dionisio Santiago's comments that cost him his position: that the Center is too high-maintenance and impractical, and that the funds used to build it could have been better spent on smaller community-based rehab centers.

It also recalled the statement of John Castriciones, Interior Undersecretary, that the government would no longer pursue its plan to build three mega rehab centers for each of the Philippines' island groups. It is a "sensible decision," the Inquirer said, given the need to address the lack of resources for the DATRC.

What all this suggests is that the rehabilitation of drug addicts is not a Duterte administration priority as a key solution to the drug problem. Instead, the "war on drugs" has focused on the physical elimination of drug users and petty traders, as President Duterte has said in so many words on a number of occasions. It's a disturbing possibility that has so far escaped much of the media.

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