It took half year before I finally convinced him to do this interview. Because I will bring out in this article some sensitive details of his life, I am opting to hide his identity and instead will refer to him as “Cardo”.
Cardo and I agreed to do the interview at his house. I had another agenda and it was to taste again the delicious lomi (noodle soup) that his girlfriend cooks. The other 204 Neighbourhood Watch patrollers learned about the plan, the supposedly just interview for this article became a get together event for the volunteers.
Cardo has a well kept and quite homey house. I mentioned to him again how jealous I am of his indoor plants. The two aloe vera in large pots are the most perfect of such that I have seen. He also has five-year old calamondin plants, a fourteen-year old balete bonsai, and a lot more. There were many pictures on the wall, an indication of the importance he gives to his family, and his deep love and connection to them. It was a perfect home, and Cardo and his girlfriend were among the most hospitable hosts I have met.
Who would have thought that Cardo was once a big time drug dealer in Winnipeg. That was in the 90’s when he used to earn average of 150,000 dollars per month for the illegal drug trade. More than a decade after that, he is now an active 204 Neighbourhood Watch patroller.
Cardo is now in his early 50’s. He arrived in Winnipeg when he was just a teenager. He has eight siblings, 6 of which are also in Winnipeg.
Leila: What was Winnipeg like in your growing years?
Cardo: During my younger years there were a lot of available jobs in Winnipeg, it was easy to get a job. I worked as a shipper/receiver. I also worked at KFC.
Leila: How deep was your involvement in illegal drug trade here in Winnipeg?
Cardo: I was involved in Asian drug trade. My biggest transaction was a kilo which was 36 thousand dollars at that time. I can turn that over or sell it to 150 thousand dollars. So even if magarbo ka, kasi ang pinupuntahan lang naman namin noon ay mga club, karaoke, yun ang hang out namin, kung mga 50 thousand na yun, you are still up (Even if you are extravagant, because we go to clubs and karaoke bars, even if you spend 50 thousand out of 150 thousand dollars, you still have a lot of money left).
The 150 thousand is within a month. That was average of 1 kilo. At the same time, you don’t work for anybody, you are on your own. As long as nababayaran mo yung nabibili mo, you are ok, wala ding threat na yung supplier mo ay gonna rob you or something, kasi sila gusto lang nilang mairelease yung hawak nila. Yung 100 thousand sa kin nay yun. (As long as you pay what you get from the supplier, the latter will not harm you. They just want to release to the market the drugs they have on hand).
I had a partner for this drug business, however he became a user, so I had to let him go. Nagrerelyebo kasi kami eh (We take turns). Today your turn, tomorrow it is mine. You can’t go to sleep. The phone is always ringing. It is non-stop. I was not a user, I never tried. I was just alcoholic.
It is hard to tell if a person is a drug user. But it is like I have a sixth sense, because I have been hanging with these kind of people for so long that I know already. Yung mga pulis may mga instinct sila na this guy is no good. Yung kilos pa lang nya iba na. Katulad sa kanila, sila trained to look for certain behavior. (Just like the police who have the instinct ato sense if the guy is no good. It is easy for them to spot a bad guy based on body language and behavior). Yung kilos ng tao (drug user), like di sya mapakali, he is swearing for no reason. Nagrereact yung bodily organs nila (sa drugs) eh. (The drug users also act differently. They are restless and swearing for no reason. It’s because their bodily organs react on drugs)
Leila: You have seen first hand the world of people who are using or addicted to drugs, or doing drug dealing. What was their reason for using drugs, or for selling them?
Cardo: For most of them, it is for entertainment, it (drugs) is acceptable when you go to club. It is glamorized. Even if reading the papers, the rock stars and everybody else are also doing it. So the users want to live that certain way too.
Leila: When you say glamorous, is that equivalent to what Filipinos term as “sosyal”?
Cardo: Yes, you look up to that certain somebody, you want to be like them. You are idolizing them and all. They are doing it, you can do that, too. Just like in he Philippines, Joseph Estrada drinks the blue label, so certain people who are drinkers, they want to drink the same thing. Pero ako nasubukan ko din yung drink na yun, there is nothing special, hahaha! (I also tried that drink but there was nothing special in it) But then, you have to pay 200 bucks for a bottle.
Leila: What kind of drugs did you sell?
Cardo: Mostly cocaine. I had high-end customers. The upper class, let’s just put it that way. Others cannot afford it, but many Filipinos can. This was in the 90’s. I started drug dealing in 1995. Users were any age. I had a rule before that if teen ager, you are not allowed. Demands were all over Winnipeg. I did drug dealing for almost 10 years.
Leila: How was the demand on your first year compared to the 10th year?
Cardo: On the 10th year, that was when I was slowing down. It was because I was being watched. I knew it, I was being watched and I got caught. So, they (police) busted me again. And I did not want to go back to jail because they were charging me with 4 counts of gangsterism. In gangsterism, the minimum sentence was 4 years. They created a new law, so they rounded us up, 35 people who were Asians. They (police) went to our houses in the morning and busted the doors down. They caught us, we were gathered together at the RCMP unit. We were being charged with gangsterism. I was being charged with 4 times gangsterism. So that was 16 years, and I was already a second offender, what would I do? I fought that charge. If I was a second offender, If I would be sentenced then I would be jailed for another 8 years.
All the money I had, they were all over the place (ex-wife’s place). Ang kagandahan noon may 1000 dollar bills, so that 180 thousand dollars na naipon ko, ganyan lang. (It was an advantage that there was 1000 dollar bill in those days, so the 180 thousand dollars that I saved was just this compact).
Leila: What made you stop, to reform or to turn around your life?
Cardo: I just made a choice. I literally dropped everything, guns and everything. I had to start from nothing. Because I couldn’t live with my life that I did that (drug dealing), I wanna be proud of myself that I did it (decent job). Because I was living under those things that were not mine, and I was not proud of it. I wanna be proud, I can’t lie to myself. That’s it. You can never lie to yourself.
So, I had to start over. Literally start over. Homeless. I had her (pointed to his girlfriend). We were sleeping on garage during winter time, in my car. That was how I started. (Told myself) I’m gonna be ok, I’m gonna start over, I’m not going back to that stuff.
Leila: What year was that?
Cardo: In year 2000 something.. Because before I met her, I was going back to that business on and off. It was easy to go back. But then, one day I just said, “What do I really want to do with my life?”. Kasi nga at that time I was not doing any good, I was not doing any bad either.
I wanted something. I wanted to be proud of myself. And that was what I did. I brought up myself. I bought my own house. And that was it, that was the reward. And now that I have so much things that I don’t really need, I wanted to help somebody. So everytime I see people (involved in illegal drugs), even if they do not ask, I let them know that hey you are not doing any good. I tell them, “See.. I know what you are doing. Forgive me if I am intruding to you, but hey, one of these days whatever you are doing, I did it, and it ain’t gonna go nowhere man. It’s gonna end soon, sooner or later.”
Leila: You had to start again from nothing. How did you slowly bounce back in terms of job, in terms of earnings?
Cardo: It just so happens that I had also, probably benefitted with my drug connections because I ended up with a lot of friends. I was also one of those drug dealers that if you are a user or a buyer from me, I don’t treat you like you are nothing. I still treat you as a person. Not like the other drug dealers that literally would look at you as a low life, I give you drugs but I am still advising you at the same time. I would even go, “Hey Pre (friend), how much money do you have?” Say he’d say 50 bucks. “Ok 50 bucks is one piece. Ok I will give you 3 but don’t call me again.” It was what I was doing. I had a lot of drugs on hand, I could afford to give it away.
Leila: How was your family treating you?
Cardo: They knew but I was not attending family functions. I literally stepped away from my family. ‘Coz everytime there was gathering I’d attend, I’d just be there for just 5 minutes. Because everything to me was money. My phone was always ringing.
Leila: So your family wanted you to be always around but you were the one distancing yourself from them?
Cardo: I was always invited, but at the same time I was also addicted with power. I was being wanted all the time. I had become the important guy. At that time bihira din yung naka cellphone (At that time, very few could afford cellphones). For myself, I had 3 or 4 cellphones. And I had 2 people working for me. I supplied them with cellphones. Boss talaga ang dating (I was a like a real boss). We had a friend who was a limo driver. We drove around with limo.
Leila: Your friends who were included in the round up and charged as gangster, what is their life now?
Cardo: Some of them I don’t see anymore. Some of them retired. Some of them got deported to the Philippines. Some of them don’t know me anymore. You really can tell who your friends are when you don’t have money. That’s what I found out.
Leila: Did anyone decide to reform like you did?
Cardo: There are people that I talked to na to change. They were my enemies in the beginning because they would rather do drugs. But now they are not using anymore. Nagpapasalamat pa sila. Especially family and older friends, pag nagkikita kami sinasabi nila buti na lang di ka nagsawa sa pangangaral sa akin noon. Yan ang sinasabi nila. And then those have become my real friends. Hindi ka nila makakalimutan. Yun na lang ang kayamanan ko.. at saka ang girlfriend ko! Hehe.. (They thanked me specially my family and older friends. When I see them, they tell me that good thing I did not get tired of giving them guidance. They have become my real friends. They never forget me. They are my life treasure now.. and of course also my girlfriend).
Leila: You are one of the most active patrollers of 204 Neighbourhood Watch. What drives you to continue being part of the group?
Cardo: I guess it’s just my make up. ‘Coz I know that I could help. You needed help and I knew that I could help. It’s just my make up, that’s the way I am. Even my parents way back then, they were always being helpful, and I would look up to them, and always thought I should be like them. Even though no one told me to do such a thing (being helpful). Even though my dad died early, he is no longer around but I remember things like that. So it was the way I was brought up I guess. It’s the right thing to do and it makes me feel good.
Leila: Do you regret anything in your life? What do you advice to the young people?
Cardo: I would never change anything, ‘coz that was my life. I found out who I was, that I can do it, and start from nothing again, and I can get up. So, anything now.. Anything that will come up now, I can tackle it and go over it. Any problem that I encounter, from now on I will just be ok. Like I said I’ve been through a lot. But I was able to go and conquer. So, nothing will surprise me anymore. And in terms of giving advice to kids that I see are gonna go through what I went through, you will never last, you will get caught one of these days. And…
Leila: They will eventually become patrollers, like you. Hahaha!
Cardo: They will eventually be patrolled by the police; or they will become neighbourhood watch patrollers. Hahaha!