I ALMOST LOST MY FUTURE DUE
TO ILLEGAL DRUGS WHEN I WAS IN COLLEGE
By Apolinario Villalobos
Friends who do not know much about my past will surely be surprised by my declaration in the title of this blog. Though it is very embarrassing, I have to do it to explain why I hate illegal drugs so much. On the other hand, those who knew me in PAL, will be equally surprised and be wondering how it could have happened as I finished my college in a “parochial school” of a far-flung and a struggling town, having just been weaned from her “mother municipality”, hence, expected to be free from bad influence, unlike Manila and other big cities where marijuana and other vices had been proliferating as early as the 1960’s.
What happened to me is happening today in remote areas as the evil of illegal drug is spread by notorious drug lords and their pushers. The pusher entices his unsuspecting victims after friendship with them has been established. That was what exactly happened to me when I was in college. My awareness about marijuana, though, came when I was yet in high school, when two transferees, one from Manila and another from Iloilo City were belatedly admitted in our school. Not known to my schoolmates, they were smoking marijuana in any available vacant room and since nobody among us knew what marijuana looked and smelled, whatever whiff of the smoke that got into our nostrils was not given much attention. We did not mind the two, as we thought they were just smoking ordinary cigarettes. They were able to attract followers because of their image as “City boys”. The guy from Iloilo City introduced me to the peculiar smell of marijuana, while smilingly inviting me to try it, but I declined…he left our town the following year. On the other hand, the guy from Manila stayed to pursue his college studies, albeit, irregularly, in our school.
When I entered college, another transferee from Manila who was admired in the way he dressed himself with the then, popular brand “Golden Award” shirts and denims, was admitted. He got close to the guy from Manila, as he was also into the same vice… smoking marijuana. Unfortunately, I got close to them via music, as one of them was very adept in playing the guitar. He taught me how to pluck the notes of the popular American folk song, “House of the Rising Sun”, aside from the strumming techniques for other songs. They also got close to one of my best friends, who l learned later to have gotten hooked to marijuana which forced his parents to stop from sending him to school.
The simple friendship developed into the influence that I unknowingly imbibed from such relationship. My classmates did not know that I spent at least one hour with them before attending my classes. During the time I was with them, we enjoyed singing folk songs and sniffs of marijuana. I had my free sniffs as I was literally only a hanger-on in their company. Later, they introduced me to “Madrax”, a depressant that came in tablets and capsules, which they told me got a stronger kick than marijuana, and better taken with two bottles of beer. They gave me tablets for free. Later on, they tried to introduce me to “Corex”, a cough syrup that I declined because of its taste.
Those were the days when some of my classmates noticed changes in my behavior, such as avoiding their company and kicking chairs inside the classroom if I caught them staring at me. Despite what happened to me, I was able to hold on to my slot in the Dean’s List every semester which I direly needed to maintain my scholarship, as well as, my job as a “working student” (janitor, assigned to clean the whole building of the Training Department). The job was granted to me by Fr. Robert O. Sullivan, O.M.I. , the school Director, who got exasperated due to my pestering plea to him that I needed it so badly. At first he declined as there would be some sort of duplication of benefits because while the job entailed a monthly allowance, I would also be enjoying an academic scholarship. In other words, the job would have been better given to another needy student. But when he learned that I was an orphan and on my own since high school, he finally conceded. He was also delighted when I told him that I got his book, “Imitations of Christ” that I won in the extemporaneous writing contest when I was yet in First Year High School and pitted against the upper class students. Although the Irish priest was known to be strict, I got close to him because of that book as he would always ask me about it.
Some friends did not leave me in my distress, and one of them was Ruel Lucentales (who at the time of his demise was a DSW Assistant Secretary). Although, somewhat fearful and apprehensive, another friend, Erna Diaz (who today works as Consultant in a school after retiring as Principal of Notre Dame of Isulan), also stood by to add her support to the effort of Ruel. Our closeness was such, that Ruel and I called Erna our “agot” or youngest sister in the dialect. The three of us were taking the same course, Bachelor of Arts (English/History).
Every school day, Ruel would fetch me at my quarters in the Training Department as early as 1PM, to make sure that I did not stray into the company of my drug-using friends. We would meet Erna in the library or any of the rooms vacated by high school students for the shift of college students. At this juncture, a special friend, Tessie de la Vega also stood by me. She brought honors to the school with her streak of triumphs in the inter-school elocution competitions that brought her to Cotabato City and Koronadal City. They practically became my cordon sanitaire, as while in school, I was with both Ruel and Erna being classmates, after classes in the evening I was obliged by Tessie who was taking another course, to walk her home. On weekends, she would also check me at my boarding house (Biἧas residence) during which she would bring gifts such as home-made pickled papaya or “achara” and other delicacies, to show that she was among those who sincerely cared for me.
My life made a complete turnaround when I was hired by Claudio Estante, to work as his lone assistant in the newly-opened Department of Social Welfare that served the whole province of Sultan Kudarat. The province was virtually in turmoil due to conflicts between the Christian “Ilaga” and Islamic “Black Shirts” since the start of the 1970s but reached its peak when I was in fourth year college. Assured that I passed my course and foregoing the graduation ceremony, after thanking Mr. Estante for his trust, I went to Manila to undergo medical check -up and training for a job in Philippine Airlines, that brought me to Tablas (Romblon) for my first assignment.
This revelation is embarrassing, but I had to do it if only to show the viciousness of illegal drug. I would shiver every time I recall those days. Had it not been for my three friends, I might not have had the chance to work with DSW, an airline, finish a book, and most especially….be blogging now! I am thankful that the adage, “regrets happen last”, did not apply to me. I can also honestly say that God indeed, is good…as I have proven it…but such goodwill must be earned by dint of hard work which I can honestly say, I did!