Benguet- “Estong” was sixteen (16) years old when he was turned over to Baguio City Jail to serve his sentence after committing robbery with homicide. Despite his young age, Estong had to live with other offenders much older and experienced than he was. However, months after his entry at the City Jail, RTC Brach 4 of Baguio City decided to suspend his sentence and referred Estong to undergo rehabilitation under the Regional Rehabilitation Center for the Youth (RRCY) of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

On 20 January 2011, Estong was transferred to RRCY-Region I, but was again requested for transfer to RRCY-CAR after a short while due to his difficulty in adjusting to the climate and culture. He was formally admitted to RRCY-CAR on 9 February 2011. But the beginning of Estong’s journey towards change was never easy.

On his first two years, Estong has repeatedly violated the rules and regulations of the RRCY. He had been reported of smoking, chewing tobacco/ moma, drinking alcohol and leaving the center without permission. His violations went on until the court decided to subject him to substance use disorder treatment after Estong admitted that he could not control his desire to engage into drinking every time someone offers him such.

From June to December 2013, Estong underwent the Substance-Use Disorder Out-patient Treatment from Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center (BGHMC) to control his alcoholic behavior. While attending half day treatment sessions, he was allowed by the court to stay with his brother from Tuesdays to Fridays and go back to the RRCY for the rest of the week. After six (6) months of treatment, Estong was able to show very satisfactory accomplishment. Although he did well, he had to finish six (6) to eighteen (18) months of aftercare program.

“Noong nasa center ako, namimiss ko yung pamilya ko. Kahit yung mga kaibigan ko, pero kahit isa sa mga naturingan kong kaibigan, walang bumisita. Kaya doon ako natuto.”, Estong shared.

With the development Estong has shown, he was recommended for transitional living and was allowed to be with his family while undergoing the aftercare program of the Substance Use Disorder Treatment. He was temporarily discharged to his family on 27 December 2013. “Masaya po ako na kasama ko na ulit yung pamilya ko. Magaan sa loob.”, Estong shared.

During his stay in the RRCY-CAR, Estong was able to finish a short course on automotive, thus he was also recommended and referred to have his on the job training for automotive mechanic at Jack’s Industrial Corporation in La Trinidad, Benguet from February to May 2014.

Estong continued to prove that he has already been a changed person. At the end of May 2014, the Substance-Use Disorder Out-patient Treatment Unit (SUDOTRU) conducted another assessment and Estong was assessed to have fully completed and satisfied his aftercare program. With this, on 31 May 2014, RRCY-CAR recommended the dismissal of his case. The court granted this on 25 June 2014.

Furthermore, Estong vows to keep his records clean not only during the two years of observation before his case record becomes completely closed, but for all the days of his life.

“Gusto ko pong maging pulis. I-aapply ko po yung mga natutunan ko sa center gaya ng pagiging pasensyoso at yung anger management. Parati ko rin pong matatandaan yung character at values na tinuro nila saamin sa center tuwing may character building at religious activities kami.”, Estong added.

At the moment, Estong is taking up his first year of Bachelor of Science in Criminology in one of the universities in Baguio City. At the age of 20 and after his experiences in the center, he has shown determination to change his future. “Tatapusin ko po yung pag-pupulis. Hindi po muna ako mag-gigirlfriend. Darating din po yun. Mag-aaral po muna ako.”, Estong added.

Estong also left words of advice for the youth. “Ang masasabi ko lang po sakanila, sumunod tayo sa utos o bilin ng ating mga magulang at gawin natin ang responsibilidada natin bilang mga anak. Mas maganda rin kung makikipagkaibigan tayo sa mga taong lubusan na nating kilala. Maging friendly tayo, pero  kilalanin muna natin ang mga taong kinakaibigan natin para hindi tayo ipahamak ng mga hindi tunay na kaibigan. Matuto tayong maging independent at wag parating umaasa sa ibang tao kasi kailangan nating magsumikap in our own ways. At higit sa lahat, maging pasensyoso tayo at wag mawawalan ng pag-asa sa buhay”, Estong shared.

Definitely, Estong has learned his lessons and is now on his way towards change and eventually better future. He proves that despite life’s trials and mistakes, everyone can still change and make a difference. # DSWD-CAR, SOCIAL MARKETING UNIT, NFGV

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