I’M calling on our dear President Duterte to order the Dangerous Drugs Board and the country’s two biggest law enforcement arms, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and the Philippine National Police to finally join hands this year in fighting the problem brought about by solvent-sniffing adults and children in the streets lest our country gain the negative reputation of really turning into a ‘Rugby Republic.’
I’m issuing the challenge amid the dismal failure of all concerned government agencies to arrest the presence of males and females, adult and kids included sniffing solvent in busy streets oblivious of the people around them. These are the persons who commit petty crimes like scratching the door of your car if you fail to give them money.
Like a pack of wolves, they are ready to attack with bladed weapons, rocks, wooden clubs and other improvised weapons people including the elderly who gets in their way while already ‘high’ on the solvent. These are the same group of people who have been perennially accused of throwing stones at passing vehicles, stealing side mirrors, stealing from unattended cars and SUVs after crashing their windshields with rocks, mugging or pick-pocketing and may gradually turn into hardened criminals involved in rape, murder and robbery-holdup.
Sad to say, there has been an ‘on-and-off’ campaign against rugby-users in the country, just like the government campaign against petty offenses like jaywalking, littering, smoking in public and the like. While the government since July 2016 had mounted a bloody crackdown against illegal drug trafficking and abuse which so far has left over 5,000 armed suspects dead in gunbattles with the police, little has been done against solvent-users.
These are the people, as young as 7-9 years old, who with their disheveled looks and oversized shirts, stare at you while you stop in a busy intersection or while you are on your way to your office, school or home. Upon close inspection, you will discover that these minors are hiding plastic bottles with rugby under their shirts and sniffing them until they get the high they need.
You will be shocked to find them all gathered outside convenience stores, restaurants, malls, hamburger joints, Churches and other places of convergence while engaging in a ‘rugby session.’ Once high, they create trouble and who knows, their next victim may be you, your wife, kids, brother, sister, friends, all of us.
When he was still the DDB chairman in 2008 Senator Tito Sotto looked for me when I wrote a column about ‘Rugby Republic, and due to his busy schedule asked one of his undersecretaries to explain to me the measures they were doing to address the problem specifically in the form of a circular to all concerned government agencies.
As far as I can remember, the DDB then wanted to change the smell of contact cement, the ‘rugby’ we all know by adding a strong chemical that will make the product unpleasant, unattractive to human. You see, it’s the rugby’s smell that makes it attractive to solvent users. I learned that due to strong opposition from business groups, the DDB plan did not materialize.
I learned that manufacturers of goods like shoes and bags in Marikina complained that their workers would be affected by the measure. Imagine a shoemaker or a bag-maker having to deal with a contact cement given a not-so-pleasant smell, one which can cause irritation to the eyes, ears, skin and nose just because of the fact that it has become a substance of abuse?
The DDB then also proposed that all hardwares and stores selling contact cement and the like must not sell the product to minors, that the sale must always be reported to the local barangay, that those buying the product must register their names and address. I doubt if those measures were fully implemented because I have learned that many hardwares still sell the product even to street-children.
Police, it seems to me are the only ones going after these petty criminals. However, the PNP’s perennial complaint is that as soon as they round-up these delinquents and turn them over to local social welfare and development offices, they are freed days after due to lack of government fund to buy food, clothing, soap, towels, toothpaste and other basic materials needed to care for the apprehended rugby-users.
What we need now is a ‘whole of government approach’ to solve the problem. There ought to be a much tougher law against wanton sale of contact cement and its illegal use. It’s good to hear that the other day, PDEA chair, Director General Aaron Aquino said they will soon launch a project to save the country’s solvent-sniffers. Thru their ‘Sagip Batang Solvent’ program, Aquino said they will rescue street children sniffing solvent and provide relief from their addiction to become productive citizens in the future.
We need to fully support the PDEA’s initiative to save these children by providing them shelters/facilities where they can be reformed and taken cared of with the end in vision of transforming them into real future of the country.
“Just go around the thoroughfares of metropolis and you see children sniffing inhalants like a normal display of feat,” Aquino said. The official said that next month, they would open a model reformation center for rugby-users in Quezon City, priority of which are male and female children 10-years old and below. I hope that all other LGUs and government agencies will support Aquino’s plan.