Romeo (not his real name) has everything to thank in the fight against illegal drugs of the present administration.

“If not for President Duterte, I don’t know what will happen to my life by now,” the off-again-on-again ambulant fish vendor confided in a rare drinking session with this writer.

At the height of his addiction to illegal drugs, he almost sold his house, but was persuaded against it, thankfully, by his family, a wife and three grown-up daughters, and — surprisingly by his own admission — the transition to the new government in 2016.

At about this time especially after the elections three years ago, the headlines of every prime newscast daily was the original version of “Toktok-hangyo” (knock-plead) or “tokhang.”

But those were not enough to move him to change his growing addictive ways, and so a second-hand TV he bought for P3,500 was sold for only P1,200 just to satisfy his emerging cravings.

The moment of truth that shook his senses happened during the first 30 days after the assumption of the Maasin-born leader, for by then a noted pusher was sampled — “neutralized” was the police technical term — in Romeo’s own barangay (name of barangay is deliberately omitted to protect identities), the first-ever fatality in the war against drugs, right at the very purok where the supply was.

He was one among the thousands who trooped to the city police station to voluntarily surrender immediately after the incident.

Told about the common criticism that the drug war targeted only street-level personalities, Romeo quickly brushed that aside, retorting a litany of actual operations on high value targets — one of which took place one night also in the barangay where he lived.

Romeo confessed he was not into pushing or selling of the banned drugs.

He described himself as a small-time user, but he admitted the bad consequences in the future was scary, especially that he had to struggle to send a daughter into college, the other two to high school.

Last year, when the city government initiated a three-month community-based rehabilitation program for drug surrenderers, he joined without second thoughts, intent to change his ways and be transformed for the better.

Out of the 50 enrollees of the first batch of the city-organized drug rehab program, 39 succeeded and made it to their “graduation day” on December 1, 2018 at the city gym.

Romeo was one of the 39 individuals, with his family around as witness that he, along with the 38 others, would walk the enlightened path for good.

“I was really grateful to Pres. Duterte,” he said again, this time the words were spoken with more weight and meaning, than the ones uttered at the start of our discussion.  (LDL/MMP/PIA-8, Southern Leyte)