‘Maayong Pasko Kaninyong Tanan’

‘Maayong Pasko  Kaninyong Tanan’

TONY is naturally shy. But late afternoon this Dec. 8, as he stood in front of a crowd wearing a black felt hat over a scarf that covered his head, he was transformed into someone else. Grooving to a Michael Jackson song, he suddenly did his moves and glided deftly over a portion of the concrete basketball court that had become his instant stage. No longer shy, he was Michael alive, to the delight of the crowd!

Tony is one of 37 clients of the second batch of the LaBang (Lahat Bangon) program in Barangay Subangdako, Mandaue City, a Community-Based Recovery Program (CBRP). He and his companions finished a four-month program with a daily four-hour intervention from the volunteers of LaBang. Ten received a certificate of completion – meaning they attended all of the modules – while 27 got a certificate of participation since they missed some modules. Only those who complete the program are recommended to the PNP to have their names removed from the drug list. Seeds have been planted, spaces of hope ignited.

CBRP has the advantages of a drug rehab center without its disadvantages, mainly the need to adjust after the rehab program since drug dependents are already in their local communities. This goes beyond mere declaration of drug-cleared status which is the emphasis of government. It is truly the missing link in the war on drugs that has been going around in vicious circles.

LaBang brings together State, Church, and other sectors as co-responsible and co-creators of a Community-Based Recovery Program. It works through an expanded UBAS (Ugnayan ng Barangay at mga Simbahan) since in existing government anti-drug councils, the Church is not co-responsible nor co-creator but only invited to an already-existing program. The presence of the Church ensures sustainability for we offer a counterweight to an ever-changing political landscape that is partisan and polarizing, and so unpredictable. It is critical, however, that parish volunteers do actual hands-on work and not merely outsource the outreach to so-called professional groups.

LaBang was adopted by the Cebu Archdiocesan Program for Drug Dependents (CAPDD) in February 2017 as one of two models of intervention, although LaBang had begun in June 2016. Eight parishes have since joined LaBang. It is not only the drug dependents and their families who are being transformed but also the parishes and other sectors. For one, parish volunteers are slowly overcoming the stigma of drug dependents. Also, led by a parish priest, parish and trans-parochial organizations are going beyond their “silo” mentalities and uniting for a common cause.

But the change is not instant. The desire for instant transformation may be the biggest stumbling block for those who should be engaged in CBRP. Many do not realize the amount of work needed to overcome denial, fears, and other mindsets of drug dependents and volunteers. “Non multa, sed multum,” as a Latin expression puts it – not many but much, roughly translated – is the first order of the day. Numbers are also important but in due time. Patience and fortitude are needed. Yet the joy of experiencing transforming lives and communities is out of this world.

Bishop Dennis Villarojo, one of the auxiliary bishops of Cebu, is parish priest of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart parish, better known as Capitol parish for its proximity to the provincial capitol. He set the pace for the program in his parish by quoting Luke 15:7, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance” – when a parish volunteer pointed out that there were only five clients who regularly attended the session. His persistence is paying off. There are now 15 regular attendees who are about to finish the first run. This wait-and-see attitude is part of the process.

During the Grand Marian Procession in Cebu marking the centennial of the Fatima apparition on Oct. 13, all 15 clients joined the procession. They were soaking wet due to heavy rain, but they happily remarked that it was not only their feet that were washed but also their entire bodies. This was in reference to a ritualized washing of the feet in an earlier session on respecting the body.

The slow beginnings of LaBang in the parish of San Isidro Labrador in Talamban, Cebu City discouraged some volunteers since there were only 11 regular attendees, even less. One day, one of the clients brought six other “classmates”. This is a multiplier effect that would be our best bet in reversing the ravages of illegal drugs. But each parish needs to create an atmosphere of hospitality, develop competence, and establish credibility with the clients before this happens. Active waiting and continuing pastoral accompaniment are part of this journey.

Todate, there are 150 clients and about 300 volunteers from the eight parishes, schools, rehab centers, and other sectors on board, not even counting barangay workers. Not bad for a start. And eight happens to be the symbolic number for renewal in the Church. In addition, each LaBang unit in the parish-barangay meet weekly to serve more effectively and the Technical Working Group or TWG, composed of pastoral companions of each of the parishes, also meet weekly to exchange notes. Capability-building continues.

LaBang works. It is igniting Spaces of Hope for barangay officials and multi-sectoral volunteers. The slow fire of LaBang is transforming lives, transforming drug dependents, transforming policemen, transforming barangays, and transforming parishes. The changed human being is, after all, the ultimate indicator of success.

LaBang brings people and sectors together to build a community of persons, willing to rise above their fears and addictions, at home with one another, living and sharing a life of faith, hope, and love.