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Special Features | National

NOT ALONE | In Blumentritt, a couple strive to quit drugs for each other

After attending the weekly community-based drug rehabilitation program at San Roque de Manila Parish, partners Manuel Tanjutco and Soledad Pangilinan look after Manuel's 84-year-old mother.
The online news portal of TV5

MANILA, Philippines -- They are conspicuous, the only couple among the so-called “drug surrenderers” attending the community-based drug rehabilitation program at the San Roque de Manila Parish in Sta. Cruz.

This is actually the third time Manuel Tanjutco, 50, is undergoing rehabilitation. A long-time shabu (crystal methamphetamine) user, he has also been jailed once for his habit.

It is, however, the first time he will no longer be facing the challenge on his own. With him is his partner, Soledad “Sol” Pangilinan, 55, who is looking to quit the syrups and injectibles she had long been abusing.

Every Wednesday morning since September last year, Manuel and Sol attend the weekly program organized by barangay officials, police, and the church for residents in the Blumentritt area who have responded to Oplan Tokhang, the house-to-house campaign to convince drug users and petty pushers to give themselves up.

The community rehabilitation program has two phases: first, a renewal formation program aimed at restoring morality and reaffirming faith in God; second, a skills training and livelihood program to provide them with better opportunities for employment.

[READ MORE: WALANG MURA, PURO LOVE LANG | Amid Du30’s cuss words are messages of hope among priests, drug users]

Policemen in Blumentritt monitor the community-based drug rehabilitation program organized by barangay officials, the police, and the church.

Manuel and Sol said the involvement and presence of the church is assuring, giving them hope they will not end up among the thousands -- including many who have heeded the call to turn over a new leaf -- who have lost their lives in the government’s war on drugs.

"Dapat ang sugpuin yung droga, hindi ko yung taong nagdrodroga (They should stamp out drugs, not the drug users)," Manuel said.

And because the program is weekly, the couple can go home to take care of Manuel’s 84-year-old mother, Ofelia.

Manuel said he could still recall the day in 1993 when a friend convinced him to try shabu.

‘Di ba maaga ngayon (It’s early, right)?” his friend told Manuel as they were hanging out. “Kapag nag-take ka ng shabu, parang gabi ngayon (If you take shabu, it will feel like night).”

Ano? Umaga magiging gabi? (What? Morning will become night?)” he recalled asking even as he gave in to the curiosity and sank into the habit.

Ofelia knew about her youngest son’s addiction despite his efforts to keep it hidden. She noticed a change in his personality. The once mischievous yet polite son became rude, snapping at her whenever she asked where he had been.

At the time, Manuel was expected to take after his grandfather, a lawyer for whom he worked part-time typing legal documents. But the more he earned, the less he became interested in school until he quit.

In 1996, Ofelia and her husband urged him to voluntarily enroll himself in a drug treatment facility. Manuel consented and spent six months at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City.

Two years later, he returned to the facility because he had resumed taking shabu.

‘Di ko akalain masisira yung buhay ko (I didn’t realize it would ruin my life),” Manuel said. “Nakatikim ako ng kulong … Kinakasuhan ako ng user-pusher (I experienced being jailed ... I was charged with being a user-pusher).”

But except for jail time between 2005 and 2012, after which he was freed after being acquitted in court, he could not kick the habit.

A priest performs the sacrament of reconciliation for a 'drug surrenderer' at San Roque de Manila Parish in Sta. Cruz, Manila. 

Like Manuel, Sol is the youngest among her siblings. Despite this, because of her mother’s mental illness, it fell on her to be the family breadwinner after her father died when he was only 38.

At 18, Sol went to Japan to work as a singer and dancer. There, she learned how to get high on syrups to boost her confidence and perform for longer hours and more pay.

After a few years, she returned to the country and did some modelling but eventually ended up working as a laundrywoman and manicurist in her community.

Sol said Manuel was her first boyfriend but they broke up and started families of their own.

In 1998, soon after Sol’s husband died, they wanted to get together but Manuel was still married.

But in 2005, two days after Sol’s birthday, their paths crossed again. Sol recalled Manuel saying, “Hindi ko na pakakawalan ang babaeng ito (I won’t let go of this woman again).”

Finally together again, they confessed their drug use to each other and vowed to clean up for the sake of their children.

But Manuel admitted it was easier said than done.

These days, he said, he still feels the urge for the drug but has managed to resist.

"Kapag hinahanap ko siya (shabu), bibili ko na lang kung anu-anong pagkain (When I get the urge, I buy whatever food I can)," he said.

"Hindi na nabusog 'yan (He never gets full)," a smiling Ofelia comments.

Sol also chides her partner for sleeping too much, calling him “lazy.”

He shoots back with, "Ikaw babeng walang pagod (You tireless woman)!" 

Which is, in fact, Sol's way of battling her own demons. She said she forgets about drugs when she works.

Manuel and Sol are looking forward to the livelihood phase of their drug rehabilitation program. Once they complete the program, they plan to start a business selling cooking oil.

They aren’t about to let go of what appears to be the perfect opportunity to fulfill the vow they made to each other 12 years ago -- to quit drugs for good.