MANILA, Philippines - It's located right along the main highway of Tagaytay City. It has a glorious view of Taal Lake. There's a pool and two large cabins that contain several bedrooms. On the main grounds, there is a garden which is ideal for picnics. This garden overlooks the swimming pool and there is a basketball court to the right.
First-time visitors can easily mistake this place for a private resort, or a large bed-and-breakfast place. It actually has a special attraction that seems to be getting scarce in Tagaytay: It still has that rustic atmosphere.
The residents look youthful. They're all impeccably dressed and are very courteous. It's quite surreal; it's as if one has entered the village of the Stepford Wives.
The place is the home of Seagulls Flight Foundation and it's lovingly dubbed the Seagulls Village. It was established to rehabilitate its residents who have become drug dependent. "It's not just for people who have become addicted to drugs," says Seagulls founder Ed Castillo. "It's for those who have become addicted to anything that could ruin their lives and negatively affect the lives of the people who are dear to them. Many of my residents are drug dependents, but there are others who are alcoholic, and dependent on downers or marijuana."
He chose the name "Seagulls" because of the fact that this bird can soar to the sky and fly gracefully and serenely. The book "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" was the inspiration. Living in serenity is the sort of life Castillo hopes to instill in his guests. Castillo was addicted to drugs himself. He got hooked on LSD during his youth, back in the early 1970s. It was a decadent period when it was normal to imbibe in drugs, especially in discos where the party crowd danced until 4 am. He checked himself into the DARE Foundation, which was run by Bob Garon. When he graduated he stayed on to help Garon at the foundation. After several years with DARE, Castillo decided to study the newest concepts in drug rehab in the US. These latest concepts are now being used at Seagulls.
Castillo disputes the notion that the 1970s was the decade of utter debauchery. "It isn't any better now," he insists. "A lot of the younger people now may obsess with physical fitness, but the drug problem is still as bad as ever. Now they use party drugs, which are worse."
Seagulls can accommodate 35 guests at a time. At this writing, it had 31 guests, which doesn't bode well at all. Many of the guests are in their early 20s. Others are in their late 40s. Castillo says addiction sets into a person when there is no structure in his life. "That's what we introduce to our guests here. A life of structure," he says.
A day in the structured life at Seagulls begins at 5:30 am. House chores are done, meals are cooked and served. Group and individual consultations are scheduled each day. An hour is reserved for exercise and recreation. Guests can either use the pool or the basketball court. Or if they've been behaving well, the group can play a round of golf at a nearby club. A dozen of the residents even brought in their mountain bikes and they're allowed to bike around Tagaytay and nearby towns like Silang and Sta. Rosa during weekends.
Visitors might compare this place to the house in "Pinoy Big Brother." The difference is there are no hidden cameras. The tenants of the TV show are hoping for fame and wealth. The residents of Seagulls already have the wealth (and sometimes the fame). But they hope to have a more structured life, completely free of substance abuse. Each resident pays an astronomical fee to be admitted into Seagulls. Among them is 22 year-old Rachel (not her real name). She had been dependent on Tanduay Rhum, she explains. "I'd take a shot or two before leaving for school or to a party. It gave me more confidence,"
Rachel had spent a year living in the U.S., where friends influenced her to drink at parties. When she returned to the Philippines, things got out of hand. She wrecked her Volvo in an accident on the way home from a party. The police found a bottle of Tanduay in the car. Several weeks later, her parents announced the entire family was taking a drive to Tagaytay. "They told me we were spending the day there. But we didn't go to a restaurant or a hotel, we drove straight to Seagulls. They had secretly packed my bags," she recalls.
But there is no bitterness in Rachel who remains demure and soft-spoken. She seems glad her parents had brought her here. She's made new friends and she's always dressed in style (they strictly adhere to a dress code).
Rest assured life isn't always a bed of roses at Seagulls. Castillo is very stern and he sanctions guests who fail to comply with the rules or accomplish duties. When he asks for a table to be set for lunch, he expects the guest to do it quickly, expertly and impeccably. No special treatment is given to anyone. He admonishes the person assigned to do the task if he fails to meet such standards.
For the record, the table was beautifully set for lunch.
For inquiries, call Seagulls Flight Foundation at 809-4847.