Church to convert drug addicts into social entrepreneurs

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Ferdie Santos compared himself to a tourist, but not someone who had toured the country's pristine beaches and cultural wonders.

He instead had toured most of the jails in Metro Manila, locked up for almost 10 years. Theft, possession of illegal drugs, name it.

At 35, he had been convicted of these crimes numerous times.

The culprit? He was addicted to methamphetamine, locally popular as shabu.

"I had to steal, do bad things because I had to buy shabu. I had to appease my cravings." His voice was shaking, his knees in tremor.

Ferdie said he'd successfully fled the cops, his family and friends he ripped off, but not his conscience.

He said he had always wanted to be clean and sober, but couldn't find the help he needed. 

When he got out of jail the first time, he had to beg a friend for his jeepney fare to visit his parent's house in Antipolo. He was jobless, and oftentimes unjustly treated for being a jailbird.

Ferdie ended up stealing anew for food. Further succumbing to depression, he was lured back into using shabu. He was again caught, locked up. The cycle went on.

Not until 2014. After going out of jail, he had joined a friend to visit a church in Antipolo. He said he had mustered all his strength to step inside the church's door.

"Feeling ko po talaga na galit sa akin ang Diyos. Na wala akong karapatan na lapitan siya," he said.

[Translation: I felt like God is angry at me, that I don't have any right to come to Him."]

There he had learned about the Restorative Justice Ministry of the archdiocese. This is a program designed for prisoners and former convicts to help them reintegrate into the society.

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Today, two years after Ferdie's entry to the program, he had completely stopped using shabu. He had met the love of his life who's a church catechist. On October 8th, they tied the knot. Together, they are raising two children.

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Ferdie has his own small business, a food stand in front of his house. He's also been peddling hotcakes in his village in Antipolo.

In September, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle announced the church's doors are open to drug addicts who need help. They, too, will be under the same program Ferdie went through.

Read: Church open to drug addicts - Cardinal Tagle

Teach them how to be a shepherd

PNP records show, within President Rodrigo Duterte's 100 days in office, 736,247 drug suspects have surrendered.

Rev. Fr. Anton Pascual, Executive Director of Caritas Manila, the social action arm of the archdiocese, said they have been coordinating with the government to finalize their list of participants who will join the Restorative Justice Ministry.

After the drug dependency assessment of all the drug suspects, the government will endorse a list of names for the church's program.

Once admitted to the ministry, drug suspects will participate in a series of all-expense-paid trainings. The first set of trainings covers spiritual and moral formation.

"Drug addicts need to restore their faith, their belief in conscience, to give them back the dignity that was lost. We help them to heal themselves," Fr. Pascual said.

Teach them how to fish

Fr. Pascual said the entire program of the ministry operates in a sustainable social enterprise model.

Forbes magazine writes social entrepreneurship is an innovative business model that blends traditional capitalism with solutions that address the long-term needs of the planet.

From spiritual and moral sessions, the trainings will progress to skills development and livelihood. Drug suspects will be taught how to make numerous products — from body care, home care, home ornaments, to food products.

Apart from product development, they will be taught packaging, marketing — the basics of doing a business.

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The drug suspects will then showcase their products at the Caritas Margins, the church's community store for all the products of the ministry's beneficiaries.

The Caritas Margins shop glows like it's the life of the entire Caritas Manila compound. Looking like an art gallery, the store, painted with pastel colors, exudes calm. It's teeming with colorful products on display, with a laid-back cafè offering brewed coffee and pastries from a monastery in Guimaras island.

From rosaries and paintings made by the inmates of the maximum security division of the New Bilibid Prison, to paper mache Christmas decors made by the urban poor — Caritas Margins will soon showcase products made by drug surrenderees.

Fifty percent of the sales of the products displayed at the store goes to the ministry. This is to fund the future trainings for other drug suspects.

Showcasing their products at the store is also the beneficiaries' way of giving back, to help the ministry sustainably fund itself in helping more drug suspects convert into a better life.

Fr. Pascual said the social enterprise model they adopted has helped the entire program become self-sustaining.

It veers away from the conventional dole-out people are used to when they seek help from the church.

Buying is giving

Ferdie never thought his life in the gutter could possibly be turned around. He firmly believes every drug suspect could change.

"May pag-asa po talagang magbago ang tao habang nabubuhay."

[Translation: There really is hope for someone to change while he or she is alive.]

Ferdie said a successful drug rehabilitation program is a combination of an encouraging environment, an empowering reintegration program, and a supportive society.

With this, he appealed to all Filipinos, saying  instead of villifying drug addicts, why don't we help them rehabilitate.

Purchasing their products at the Caritas Margins can be your small contribution to make this possible. "Buying is the new way of giving," so says the store's slogan.

Sharing his two cents on the spate of extra judicial killings involving alleged drug suspects, Ferdie concluded, "Yung buhay dapat din pong pangalagaan. Dapat hindi po patayin ang tao."

[Translation: Life should also be valued. People should not be killed.]

Caritas Margins is located at 2002 Jesus Street, Pandacan, Manila. You may call them at (632) 562-0020 to 25.