Former drug-dependent finds redemption in a small business

manny inside his store 2

(first published in Sunday Biz, Philippine Daily Inquirer, August 21,2016)

by Myrna R. Co

There is salvation from the underworld of drugs and other vices, barkada, and high living.  This entrepreneur from Misamis Oriental found his in a small business.

People who knew him thought it absurd that Manny Go, who used to own bistro bars, gay bars, music lounges, and an apparel line in metropolitan Cebu, would happily settle down running a banana-cue store and then a dry goods shop in his hometown of Salay.

But big business success and easy profits were what led him to drugs in the first place.  He did not even want to remember that now.  Except he was reminded others, especially the youth, might pick up lessons from his story.

So Manny obliges.


‘Get-rich’ dreams

He belonged to a hard-working middle-class family, not rich by any standard, especially in the context of 13 children.  Early on, he dreamt of hitting it big and becoming a millionaire someday.  The young Manny dressed the part – wore flamboyant clothes, walked around in good leather shoes, and slung a camera over his shoulder.   This was, he believed, the way of city folks and tourists, whom he admired.  Later, when he could afford it, big chunks of gold jewelry completed his attire.

After graduating from Salay High School, he went to Cebu City to finish a course in accounting at the San Jose Recoletos.  He stayed on in the city when he found employment in a bank.  It was here he began working for his ‘get rich’ dreams.

He would spend his vacation leaves in Manila and buy stuff there to bring home. Every time he left the big city, his bags would be bursting at the seams with apparel, PX goods, jewelry, etc. which he sold to his bank colleagues.  By this time, he had developed a good taste in clothes and was his own best testimonial for what he sold.


A mini empire of businesses

He opened his first business, Manny’s Kitchenette, in Cebu in 1983.  More followed in succession:  Bistro Manuel, Manny’s Sing Along and Disco, Manny’s Folkhouse, the Bird Cage, Manny’s Bikini Bar, Bistro Manuel, Manny’s Music Lounge, Manny’s International, Manny’s Dancing Club,  Manny’s Karaoke. Plus a beauty parlor, Manny’s The Beauty Perfection.

In 1991,  with his designer-friends, and because he so loved dressing up, he started  M&J Apparel Line and G&P Fashion Gallery which supplied RTW to big department stores and  boutiques.

It was clear Manny had a good head for business.

He paid his workers well and ploughed back his profits, keeping chunks of it to save.  He would give freebies to first-time customers, banking on their return business.  A skilled networker, he maintained good connection with government agencies.

Soon, he was no longer hands-on and left direct management of his companies to trusted staff, while keeping a sharp eye on them by remote control.  He lived life to the full in terms of amenities and luxuries.  He bought pieces of real estate.  He went first class  with his house, its furniture and decors.  He slept on a P100,000-bed.

Most of all, he got himself a Mercedes Benz, paying for it in cold cash.  It was for him the ultimate manifestation he had arrived.

Meanwhile, he developed a flair for throwing parties and socializing with the affluent circles in Cebu.  It was also around this time he stumbled on drugs.


Descent to “the pits”

A trusted friend and business partner introduced him to shabu.  He liked it.  Soon he was spending more and more time in his room getting high on the substance.

Moneyed, he could and would buy a stock of the drug and was on it almost 24/7. Before he knew it, his businesses were endangered.   His trusted manager turned against  him, his workers went on strike, his house burned down, and he was himself stabbed in a fight.

He was on a downward trajectory and he didn’t know how to pull the stops.

In time, his businesses collapsed like a house of cards.  He started selling his possessions to finance his habit.

In 1998, he was arrested for drug use and was bailed out by his sister after an overnight detention.  Later, when he couldn’t report to the police as a condition of his bail, he was jailed for 15 days.  “I lacked transportation money from Salay  to Cebu,” he rued.

By 1999, he was totally washed out.


Climbing back

Manny rehabilitated himself with God’s grace. When he decided that was it, turning cold turkey wasn’t too difficult.  Surprisingly, he experienced no serious withdrawal symptoms.

He had no choice.  With empty pockets, he could no longer buy drugs or even food.

He left Cebu in 1999 and went back to Mindanao.  Crawling back into his old house – now empty because his parents had by then passed away – he tried to pick up his shattered life piece by piece.

In his hometown, his return was greeted with raised eyebrows and wagging tongues.  The humiliation was total: “I felt like shit.”

He repented his mistakes. “Lampas sa langit ang pagsisisi,” was how Manny described his sense of guilt.

He took account of what was left. The family home.  Some clothes, bags, shoes.  He also remembered he still has his entrepreneurial acumen intact.

Selling some of his personal effects, he managed to put together a thousand pesos. Enough for a micro business.  Enough for cooking and selling banana cue which a kind lady neighbor taught him to do.  As he struggled to begin again, he made himself impervious to the taunts:  “Look at the Cebu millionaire now selling banana cue.”

He recovered his old frugal habits. In time, he was able to buy a stack of household items– brooms, pans, plates, slippers, tabo, pails and basins, hangers, other plastic ware.  He had enough to transform his bananacue-han into a dry goods store.

He opens at 7 after breakfast and a special prayer to the Holy Spirit and closes at 6 everyday, except when he goes to Cagayan de Oro City to replenish his supply.

His micro business is doing well, thank you.  After all, overhead is low with manpower consisting of only the multi-tasking owner.

Manny is saving and counting profits again – not in the heady way he had conquered markets in Cebu but more from humble everyday toil.

He no longer needs extravagance in his life.  His dwelling has the barest minimum —  a second-hand television, a cooking pan and stove, a sturdy bed, and a stool and a drawer where he receives cash.  He does everything, including his laundry.

Never after he decided to quit did he go back to his old habit.

Today, at 66, he is proudly self-reliant and law-abiding, no longer an object of derision but an asset to his community.

A few years back, Mrs. Loreta Rafisura of Shapii Foundation invited him to share his story to the youth of Salay.

It is a story that stands telling and retelling, with nuggets on falling and rising again through hard work and prayer.

Manny never stops thanking God for second chances and asking for forgiveness for his mistakes and grace in his small business.

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