SPANIARD Abelardo Garcia Gutierres explained that, like old trinkets from secondhand thrift stores finding their way to new owners, people have the potential to be restored back to their old glory no matter how destroyed they are.
Gutierres, who runs the Remar Rehabilitation Center of the Philippines in Caloocan and, at the same time, the Remar secondhand store along Edsa Nepa Q-Mart area, said there is always hope for change for the people who have lost themselves in drugs and other addiction. However, he said there has to be individuals and institutions willing to assist them.
In a time where there is a thin line separating the campaign-against-drugs agenda and the kill-all-drug-users ideology, Gutierres said that despite urging people to be more accommodating, instead of pointing fingers on who should take action, there is the inevitable that the fight against drugs will be a complicated and messy endeavour.
“When you have to clean your house, you will get some sapot [cobwebs]. But you have to clean. You will get dirty. You cannot avoid that. Of course, I do not like what is happening today. But this is part of the system. The war on drugs involves lives of people. It is a difficult time but there are things that need be done, although not happy ones, in order to get solutions,” he said.
Drugs and alcohol
At age 14 and working as a delivery boy of liquefied petroleum gas tanks in his hometown of Asturias in Spain, Gutierres experienced earning more money teenage boys of today could only dream of getting.
Having been born of a poor family and trying to make ends meet, Gutierres resolved to work instead of continuing his studies. It paved the way for his period of trying out drugs and alcohol-drinking binges.
Four years after, Gutierres got into mining and was earning a relatively lower amount of money than his previous job in carrying gasoline tanks but, nonetheless, for a young bachelor, the earnings were more than enough for his needs.
He would give some to his mother to help out in the household expenses, but the majority he would use to feed his growing addiction.
“How to spend every day for example, I get 10,000 every day. I give my mother 2,000 and then I worry how to spend 8,000 every day. Too much money. Many people, professionals, do not get this kind of money. But me, I get 8,000 so how I spend this kind of money? By taking drugs, drinking alcohol,” Gutierres said.
But as the saying goes: Too much of something kills. And it was around 1989 when Gutierres experienced the start of the decline in his life.
“I continued consuming drugs all the time, but then it started that the money was not enough because I had a big addiction. I cannot afford all that I need. I was taking cocaine and tablets, and drinking all the time. I cannot support all my addictions so I had two options, go to rehabilitation or do some things to get more money. I chose the second one,” he said.
Addiction took its toll and Gutierres shared how he lost weight and was doing all kinds of “crazy” things to feed off his hunger for drugs. He even resorted to taking small amounts from his mother’s wallet, like a little boy sneaking off a piece from the cookie jar.
However, thanks to a strong family relationship, Gutierres said he was able to see light and recognize the need for help and proper treatment. His mother was a big reason in his decision to finally go for rehabilitation.
“Mothers always know the right thing. She is the one to call me and I listen to her because she is my mother,” Gutierres said.
After more or less a year in the Rehabilitation for the Marginalized (Remar) in Valencia City in the southeast of Spain, an 800-kilometer travel by car from Asturias, Gutierres was good and well for some months. But after a night of partying, he was back to his old ways.
“I have a very good relationship with my family. Even if I do not listen to them sometimes, when they gave me counseling, I never talked to them in a bad way. They sit down and talked about how I can get better,” Gutierres said.
Driving back and checking in to Remar once again, Gutierres talked of the hiya (embarrassment). But seeing his lifestyle, of being able to spend P100,000 in a month at least to sustain his addiction, he said something must be done.
A strong faith
Holding on to an even bigger figure during those dark times in his life, Gutierres said his faith has made him see that change is possible.
He added that addiction is no light matter and that serious treatment is also advisable but leaning on to God has made things easier for him.
“If I did not enter Remar for rehabilitation, I would have probably died several years ago like some of my friends, because I could not handle the situation. Nobody can handle it. You can say you can handle it, but you will be a slave of the drugs. Everything you get is for the drugs. It will never be enough. You will do many things to get more money to consume more drugs,” Gutierres said.
He added: “Jesus changed my life. God was the only one that changed my life. I tried several programs and medication. Nothing. But when I got to the [Remar] organization, they read the Bible, we were sharing experiences with one another, persons who were like me. And I saw the change. I am totally convinced that only God can change your life, not the money, not the doctors.”
Gutierres also said there has to be more “doing than talking” in the times like today and to practice what is preached in Church, which is giving mercy and compassion.
Preloved items for sale
In 1998, having been fully rehabilitated and has since been staying as a volunteer in Remar, Gutierres was sent to the Philippines as a missionary. He has stayed in the country ever since.
The country manager admits to having not only challenges in setting up the thrift store to generate income for the center based in Caloocan, but also to a few culture shocks during the beginning.
“I was crying. I did not know English. I did not know Tagalog. I do not understand them and they do not understand me. All I thought was that as a foreigner, they were out to get money from me,” Gutierres said.
With financial aid from its mother branch in Spain, Gutierres said they were able to buy the 4-hectare property where the Caloocan site stands today. The center is home to not only those undergoing rehabilitation, but abandoned and homeless children and abused women as well.
The Remar secondhand store, on the other hand, houses all kinds of preloved items, from clothing, to Chinaware, toys and house and office furniture. The items are mostly donated from Hong Kong and different parts of the world and from here in the Philippines.
Gutierres said he begins his day cooking for the individuals in the center before heading off to the Quezon City shop. He closes around 7 p.m. and, with the horrendous Manila traffic, arrives back in Caloocan around 9 p.m.
He added that he does not mind the stressful days and working hard to accommodate strangers since he has now become addicted to his mission.
“It is mission impossible, you can call it. I am addicted to my mission. The end of the mission is at the end of your days,” Gutierres said.
Image credits: Jimbo Albano