As far as we can remember it was not only once but thrice that we had as subject in this column the issue of the many mentally-impaired persons — some of them already in serious condition – roaming around Davao City’s busy streets.
There are adults, middle-aged, and even teenagers. In fact these unfortunate individuals are often chastised by people when they happen to be in areas where the sane ones are usually crowding.
In fact one time we were having coffee in a small shop not far from our editorial office, a mentally-challenged man approached the store and we saw almost everybody squirming on their seats. Even the coffee shop attendants were immediate in their move of shooing away the half-naked male who seemed to have not taken a bath for the longest time.
But we were very appreciative of the shop overseer who was quick in giving the mentally-challenged individual a piece of fried chicken and bread without deriding the person. The unkempt man left the coffee shop vicinity without saying a word after receiving the food.
Right there we started a conversation with our shop in-charge friend Melchor Labajo who, incidentally, is also a Cebuano like us. He said the man suffering from mental illness was not the only one who seemed to bother his customers. Bay Melchor said there are plenty of them that show up at his small establishment every so often. Some would just find a space to stand and keep a covetous look at the food inside the cabinets in his shop.
Others just gaze to the sky as if counting something.
And in several succeeding coffee shop conversations that we had, our friend always raised the question: In the absence of immediate members of the family of the mentally-ill persons what government office should come in to provide them not only medical interventions but food and shelter as well?
Our only answer is the Mental Hospital facility along J.P. Laurel Highway, specifically at the Acacia stretch. But we had to tell our friend that it is a national government facility whose functions do not include rounding up people with such illness. We further told him that the likelihood is that those taken inside for treatment are either brought by their relatives to the facility, or they are referred to by certain agencies or organizations. But we admitted that we were not certain with our idea.
He asked us then if the City Government of Davao has its own facility or whether or not the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) is extending assistance to mentally-challenged individuals through their families. Of course we honestly told our friend that we really have no idea at all.
It was because of this concern of our friend that we committed to write about the issue hoping that this would reach the attention of our local officials. And luck did not take long to come. Third district councilor Mary Joselle Villafuerte, widow of our good friend the late councilor Louie Villafuerte, crafted an ordinance creating a Mental Wellness Center that also provides for a regular annual budget for its operation as well as plantilla for personnel, and providing for an infrastructure to house the mentally-ill as well as treatment facilities and equipment. The ordinance was approved by the Sangguniang Panlungsod sometime early this year and was immediately signed by Mayor Inday Sara Duterte-Carpio.
Knowing the usual bureaucratic red tapes in government and the need for funding, we have no doubt that its implementation would have taken much longer. But thanks – or should it be NO THANKS – to the CoViD 19 pandemic, the local government literally fast tract the Mental Wellness Center Ordinance of Councilor Joselle. Last Monday it was reported on local television that the ordinance was already in effect. According to the doctor councilor, there is an urgent need to provide the mentally-challenged persons roaming the roads of Davao City a facility where they can be sheltered, medically checked and treated.
The reason, according to the lady councilor, allowing them to remain on the city roads could make them a real threat to the safety of the people of the city in this time of the deadly coronavirus pandemic.
Their physical condition makes them extremely vulnerable to the virus. Hence, according to the lady dad, they have to be rounded up and brought to the center, tested for the virus, and treated for their mental illness as well as other infirmities that may have afflicted them because of their condition.
If any one of them is tested positive of CoViD 19, then there is reason for Davaoenos to heave a sigh of relief knowing that one, two, or three potential carriers of the virus are taken off the streets.
And since it would take time to construct a facility, the local government has authorized the use of a portion of the Pasalubong Center along Palma Gil st., incidentally not far from the very spot where we had our frequent discussions on the issue with our friend Bay Melchor Labajo.
We again take our hat off to councilor Joselle and her colleagues in the City Council for supporting such an important measure especially at this time of a major global health crisis.
And the people of Davao City have to thank Mayor Sara for her immediate approval of the ordinance and allowing the use of an important infrastructure of the local government to temporarily house the Mental Wellness Center.
Indeed the Mental Wellness Center Ordinance is a landmark legislation passed by the Sangguniang Panlungsod. It is very much worth the efforts and the accolade, of course.
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