Roden Gonzales Ocampo during the content interview. June 20, 2023

All eyes were fixed on him as he walked along the corridor full of strangers talking in hushed, swift tones. He was fully awake but he felt like he was in a deep sleep, walking headless amidst a sea of people. He knew back then that things will never be the same again.

Roden Gonzales Ocampo, a resident of Tablon, Cagayan de Oro City, was just 40 years old when he started using drugs. He shared that it was curiosity and peer pressure that pushed him to try shabu.

Usa gyud sa rason ngano ni sulay ko kay ang curiosity, labi nagyud kung danihon ko sa akong mga kauban sa trabaho (One of the reasons why I tried using (drugs) is because of curiosity, especially if my co-workers invite me),” he expressed.

Ocampo recounted the days when his addiction worsened and affected his performance at work and could no longer support his family financially. When times that Ocampo hits rock bottom, he would instantly feel irritated and anxious over things unnoticeable – the blink of a flashlight, the sound of an opening door, and even the giggles of his children.

Akong trabaho napasagdan na nako. Dili nako mo report, ug tungod ana dili nako maka suporta sa panginahanglanon sa akong pamilya. Sakit huna-hunaon nga ang mga tao nga imong gi mahal dili nimo mahatagan og insaktong suporta ug kinabuhi (I was not able to focus on my work. Due to my addiction, I could no longer support my family […] it hurts when you cannot give your family the things they need in life), he added.

Relapse and remission

To Ocampo, having a strong support system was crucial, most noteworthy was his family.

In 2016, he personally surrendered to Cugman Police Station in fear of losing his life during operations and leaving his family.

Dako akong pasalamat sa akong pamilya kay sila gyud ang rason ngano ni surrender ko. Gi suportaan gyud ko nila aning akong kaagi (Thank God for my family. One of the things that break my heart is that I was not always there for my family as much as I feel I should have been. I was really being driven by addiction. They supported me through my entire journey,” he shared.

Ocampo’s road to recovery has been long and difficult, but in the end, rewarding. Similar to many types of progress, his improvement did not always happen in a straight line.

Lisod kaayo ang proseso, ang temptasyon nga mo-utro og gamit naa pirme (It never goes away, and it’s a reality, that there are times we get tempted to do it (take drugs),” Ocampo said.

With the National Government’s Community Based Rehabilitation Program (CBRP), Ocampo underwent a series of rehabilitation activities. Ocampo found freedom by joining, taking steps through the program, and clearing the part for his relationship with his family and friends. By doing so, he reclaimed a part of himself that was missing while he was using drugs.

Call to be BIDA advocates

Last year, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) launched the Buhay Ingatan, Droga’y Ayawan (BIDA) program – an intensified and more holistic campaign against illegal drugs to reduce drug demand in the country, one of which is by fostering anti-drug education at the grassroots level.

In Mindanao, Cagayan de Oro City and Davao City conducted their simultaneous nationwide launching in November of 2022, while its rollout for Northern Mindanao in February this year.

According to Ocampo, his participation in the BIDA program is vital since it helped him battle his way out of his relapse.

Tungod sa akong aktibo na pag apil aning programa (CBRP and BIDA), nahimong tarong akong kinabuhi isip usa ka bana, papa, ug amigo sa akong mga kaila (Due to my active involvement in the program, I became a better husband, father, and friend. My recovery is the biggest blessing I have in my life today),” he shared.

DILG 10 Regional Director Wilhelm M. Suyko, CESO IV, reiterated DILG Secretary Benjamin Abalos, Jr’s statement in a press conference in October that that program invites other agencies and organizations to promote a ‘holistic approach’ to drug use reduction.

We want to raise awareness on the ill effects of dangerous drugs; we will promote health and wellness; and of course, we will further encourage multi-sectoral participation,” he said.

CBDRP Manager Geraldine G. Mijares, who works with the group of persons who used drugs (PWUDS) in Barangay Camaman-an in CDO, said that the BIDA program ‘will go a long way towards improving the previous drug rehabilitation interventions under the Duterte administration.

“As CBRP Managers working closely with PWUDs almost their entire recovery journey, the program (BIDA) will surely present new measures and objectives that we may be able to work on with and integrate with the current CBRP,” Mijares said.  

Towards drug-free CDO

Cagayan de Oro City Anti-Drug Abuse Council (CADAC) Co-Chairman Romeo V. Calizo shared that the city government is ‘doing its best to make CDO a drug-free city’ through strengthened reinforcement from the Philippine National Police (PNP), Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), and the barangays.

“We too here in the local government, especially those who are involved in the anti-illegal drugs campaign, are doing our best to make CDO a drug-free city,” he expressed.

Calizo further emphasized that by focusing the fight against illegal drugs at the barangay level, a drug-free CDO is possible.

Kung lahat ng mga barangays ay drug free, walang rason para hind imaging drug free ang city, (If all barangays are drug free, there is no reason that the city can’t be drug free” he added.

According to PDEA Region 10, nine (9) barangays are drug-free, these are barangays that have never been plagued by PWUDS, while 14 are drug-cleared, these are barangays classified as previously drug affected but now declared cleared. In Cagayan de Oro City, 23 out of 80 barangays are declared drug-free.

Calizo hopes that the BIDA campaign, through the guidance of the DILG, will intensify the city government’s fight against illegal drugs.

“That is what we do here, to ensure that all provisions of law, all guidelines set forth by DILG and PDEA, are being followed,” he said.

Road to recovery

Ocampo struggled so much through the years to stay off drugs. With the experiences he once had in the past, it became his living testimony that despite being hopeless and full of despair, there is still a lot more to living life than getting up and using illegal drugs.

Dili g’yud sayon akong kaagi. Niaagi gyapon ko og kahadlok ug kaulaw, pero usa ragyud akong maingon – ayaw mo kahadlok pangayo og tabang (My recovery is not easy but it was all worth it in the end. That is why do not be afraid to ask for help).”

Ocampo’s recovery has been as much about finding himself and living his truth but rather about reclaiming his life from the use of illegal drugs. Now with a new life, he has his confidence back.

With the implementation of the BIDA program, many will be given the opportunity to reclaim the lives they once had, especially those who felt lost and confused – like Ocampo.

Today, Ocampo strives to be a light of hope by sharing his personal testimony in hopes of leading others toward a better way of life. (DILG ORD / M. Bacud)