Before Danny Urquico became the pastor and developer of the community-based recovery program SIPAG (Simula ng Pagasa), he spent the majority of his youth under the influence of drugs and finding himself in and out of prison.
“I grew up in a dysfunctional family. My dad was an ex-convict and was incarcerated for about 15 years. He was part of the ‘Big Four Gang,’ a mafia group in the country,” he recalls. Since Urquico’s father was in jail, his mother stayed in Muntinlupa and left him and his siblings under the care of his grandmother in Bulacan. Without the proper guidance of his parents, he was already exposed to illegal substances at the early age of 9. By then, he had already started to smoke. A year passed and he started drinking. He would later discover cough syrup and tablets at the age of 13.
More stories about faith:
When his father was released from prison in 1977, Urquico looked forward to his homecoming in the hopes of building a relationship with his dad. To his dismay, it was far different from what he expected—his father turned out to be verbally and physically abusive.
“Lahat kami, we suffered a traumatic experience and didn’t really build a relationship with our dad,” he shares. “Because he was an absentee and abusive father, kaming magkakapatid, we developed hatred toward our dad especially yung time na I witnessed kung paano niya saktan yung mom ko.”
Urquico’s parents eventually separated as his father left his family to be with his mistress. Since then, he started to lash out and stopped focusing on his studies. “My mom would always tell me na ‘wag kang lalaban sa daddy mo’ kasi he’s still my dad. Dahil di ko malabas galit ko, nilalabas ko siya sa kalsada.” Apart from fist fights, he got heavily addicted to shabu at 17 and got involved in several criminal acts including carnapping and robbery. He was also a suspect for gang rape.
Surprisingly, his father became his saving grace.
His relationship with his father is not a typical one, to say the least. “Nung nakulong ako sa San Juan, ang dad ko ang tumulong sa akin makalabas doon. He picked me up from jail and told me, ‘marami ka pang bigas na kakainin’ so ganoon kami,” he says. Years prior to Urquico’s conviction, his father would wake him up at the crack of dawn during his visits to their home to train him how to box. “He would train me to become just like him. He even told me, hindi bale makapatay ka, basta wag ka mag-drugs,” Urquico explains. Though not exactly the ideal father-son relationship, his father was more of a mentor to him than anything else.
At the age of 18, he got his girlfriend pregnant and married her five years later. “Ang problema, since I had no interest in being a father and a husband, I turned out to be exactly like my dad. In fact, worse pa,” he says, admitting how irresponsible he was especially after the birth of his second son. He would be out almost everyday drinking, taking drugs, and womanizing. When his eldest son was 8 years old and his second was 2 years old, he eventually left his family for one of his mistresses, who was then persistent about getting married to him. “I can’t do that because I’m married. So lagi niya akong inaaway,” he shares.
With all the drugs in his system and the fighting that surrounded him, a voice spoke clearly in his mind: “Sabi sa akin, ‘para wala akong problema patayin mo na lang pamilya mo.’”
Without thinking, Urquico held his family at gunpoint. It could’ve been a terrible end to his family’s life, but it was interrupted by another sound that rang louder and stopped him from pulling the trigger: his two-year-old son’s joyous laughter. “Kala niya maglalaro kami. Para akong binuhusan ng tubig na malamig.” He sped off, but then got involved in a total car wreck afterward.
It didn’t end there. The pastor refers to the following events leading up to his case of frustrated homicide in 2000 as his “rock bottom.” (He shot a gun at his neighbors and they in turn filed a case against him.) Having no one else to turn to, he found himself seeking refuge in his wife Dawn, who remained faithful all this time despite everything he had done.
Not long after, the 46-year-old started to join his wife’s bible studies and worship services. “I wasn’t seeking God. Wala lang ako magawa because I was hiding. But when I attended out of curiosity, yun na ang naging turning point ko,” he shares. “I got the impression that prayer should come from the heart. So sabi ko, I’ll try it. Wala naman mawawala.” True enough, Danny found himself kneeling before God as if He was in front of him. “If you are real, tulungan mo naman ako. Kasi pagod na pagod na ako,” he says, echoing the prayer that marked the beginning of his spiritual journey.
A changed man
That same day, his renewed faith transformed him into a good husband, a loving father, and a compassionate servant of God. “It was like the experience of the apostle Paul. It was my Damascus experience. I immediately stopped drinking, smoking, doing drugs, and womanizing. I started restoring my relationships. Gumaan na yung heart ko toward my dad. I attended this retreat wherein I learned that you cannot give what you do not have. I couldn’t hold a grudge against him because he was also a victim of wrong parenting.”
In 2004, his case was lifted after the complainant learned that Urquico was serious about becoming a pastor.
To this day, he and his wife travel around the world to conduct seminars for problematic couples and share his testimony to many different conferences and churches. He developed SIPAG and started six jail ministries—all of which are being managed by ex-convicts who transformed their lives just like Urquico. “Basically kung ano pinanggalingan ko before, doon din kami binalik ni God to minister the same people.”
For Urquico, many of the problems we go through are self-inflicted. “These are all products of our wrong choices in life that we oftentimes don’t take responsibility for. I blamed my dad for what happened. Imbis na gawin ko siyang motivation to study better and help my family, naging pabigat pa ako,” he says.
When asked what his advice is to people going through the same thing, he responds by saying, “I didn’t believe in God but I experienced him that's why I believe in him. Had I not gone through these challenges, I think hindi ko mararamdaman yung grace and unconditional love niya for me. It’s not a religion thing, it’s a relationship thing. Religion is more of policies and laws but yung relationship with God, it’s experiential,” he adds.
If there’s anything Danny wants anyone who listens to his testimony to take away, it’s that “you can never go wrong with God." He adds: “Walang nawala sa akin, all gain. Who would ever imagine na kagaya ko, na halos lahat ng kasamaan ginawa ko, would have the opportunity to serve God and be used by him to bring encouragement and hope to people.”
Portraits by Pat Mateo
For more information on SIPAG, visit their Facebook page.