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Start setting up needed drug rehab centers

BEFORE President Duterte began the campaign against drugs in the country, no one in government or in any other organization saw it as the immense problem that it has turned out to be. Every day, police reports tell of more drug pushers being killed; in one week, police had nearly a hundred killed all over the country – led by the Calabarzon, Metro Manila, and Mindanao.

And its figures did not include the killings perpetrated by vigilante groups, raising fears by human rights organizations who see a wholesale violation of legal processes.

Equally alarming – perhaps even more so – is the number of drug users who are surrendering to authorities for fear that they may be killed by drug operators to remove all possible witnesses against them. The Philippine National Police reported 8,110 drug users and pushers arrested May 10-July 10. In the same period, 35,276 surrendered to the police.

And we are only in the third week of the Duterte administration. President Duterte, we may recall, ran on a campaign promise that he would stop drugs and other crime within three to six months. This promise symbolized the idea of change, which turned out to be a massive issue that mobilized support for his candidacy and give a landslide victory.

Now that so many drug users – victims, really, of the drug syndicates – have turned up in the campaign, the government must face the problem of rehabilitating them. Ako Bicol party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe disclosed that available figures show that over the years, about 2,000 have gone through the rehabilitation process in the country. And it is a costly one – a six-month rehabilitation treatment costs P60,000 in a government facility, P150,000 in a private center.

As of 2012, he said, there were only 41 rehabilitation residential centers and three outpatient centers nationwide accredited by the Department of Health (DoH). These 44 centers looked after 2,000 patients brought in by their families. What shall we do now about the over 8,000 arrested so far and the over 35,000 who have turned themselves in?

The Ako Bicol party-list group has filed a bill, House Bill 132, for the establishment of a rehabilitation center in every legislative district in the country. That would be 81 new centers – one for each district – in addition to the 41 already accredited by the DoH. The 81 new centers will be able to take care of about 80,000 new patients.

This is one program that has to be fast-tracked. The thousands of victims of drug syndicates need help. They cannot shake off the habit by themselves. Without help, they are bound to slide back into drugs. Swift action on House bill 132 is imperative. Even now, the DoH must start moving to set up the needed rehabilitation centers.