A basketball team of former drug addicts in Lamitan City pose for a souvenir photo during a break in an inter-barangay match over the weekend. Philstar.com/John Unson
COTABATO CITY, Philippines – Reforming drug dependents and peddlers in Lamitan City are now active in community activities, some helping in infrastructure projects meant to generate livelihood opportunities for the local residents.
Chief Inspector Allan Mamarinta Benasing of the Lamitan City police on Tuesday said credit has to go to local officials for supporting programs intended to hasten the reintegration into mainstream society of former drug addicts and dealers who supplied them with methamphetamine hydrochloride (shabu) in the past.
“We have a very active, very functional city peace and order council that helps make our missions simpler and easier to accomplish,” Benasing said.
The council, chaired by the now second-termer Lamitan City Mayor Rose Furigay, is even contemplating on organizing an “all-star” basketball team, comprised of former drug dependents from different barangays, to show how offenders can become productive again if given a second chance.
Lamitan City residents have been seeing exhibition volleyball and basketball matches among reforming drug addicts and traffickers in different barangays since early April as highlights of summer barrio fiestas.
No fewer than 2,000 drug addicts, more than a dozen of them large-scale peddlers of shabu, surrendered to the city police last year through the intercession of the mayor and her constituent-barangay captains.
Local officials said none of the drug dealers who turned themselves in, among them Yakans and Tausugs who swore over the Qur’an to turn away from their illegal activities, have violated their commitment to change for good.
A 42-year-old mother, Erlinda, told The STAR his two adolescent sons who were once addicted to shabu now both want to return to school after having dropped out in 2014.
“Partly I can attribute the convenient, easy reform of many of the drug addicts here to the development spreading around the barangays now overtaking poverty that spawned despondency and helplessness in their minds,” Erlinda said.
She said most of the more than 40 barangays in Lamitan City are now connected to the city center, where schools are located, by newly-concreted roads.
“Many students in remote barangays were in difficult situation before. The roads leading to schools were impassable during the rainy days. Students were so unproductive before so they were vulnerable to vices,” she added.
Furigay said the executive department of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) had spent no less than P1 billion for various infrastructure projects in Lamitan City in the past four years.
She said the projects were implemented as joint development ventures of her office and ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman.
Furigay said the projects were managed by Hataman’s public works secretary, engineer Don Loong, and the chief of Basilan’s District Engineering Office, Soler Undug.
Lamitan City is the capital of Basilan, a component province of ARMM, which also covers Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur, both in mainland Mindanao, and the islands of Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.
“To show appreciation of these projects, which include health facilities, school buildings and water systems, we, parents, are trying our best to ensure our children would not go astray now,” said a mother of a former drug dealer, who asked to be identified only as Salamah.
Salamah said her 19-year-old son, who was once a conduit in Lamitan City of a large-scale drug dealer in Zamboanga City, is now engaged in manual works in their small coffee and orchard farm.
Furigay said her administration also has a plan to involve reforming drug offenders in local tourism thrusts.
She said erstwhile drug addicts and dealers can be utilized to help develop Lamitan City’s majestically scenic Bulingan Falls, now frequented by local tourists and visiting dignitaries.
The road connecting the Bulingan Falls to the city proper is now being concreted by the ARMM government.
The police director of Basilan, Senior Superintendent Nickson Muksan, said recent successful anti-narcotics operations of the Lamitan City police were assisted by former offenders who have returned to the fold of law.
Muksan said the alleged misfits from Metro Manila the national headquarters of the Philippine National Police (PNP) deployed in Basilan as punitive action are actively involved in programs meant to address local drug problems through diplomacy and intervention by local officials and respected community elders.
“These policemen from Metro Manila are hardworking and trustworthy and are not really `scalawags’ as they are called. They would not have reported here for duty if they don’t love the PNP anymore,” Muksan said.
Muksan said two officers from Metro Manila, Senior Inspectors Roger Carpiso and Ian Sanchez, had been made municipal police chiefs in Ungkaya Pukan and in Sumisip towns, respectively, in recognition of their dedication to work.