As Philippines’ Drug War Rolls On, Christians Continue Their Work

Duterte tried a hardline policy. Marcos is prioritizing rehab. Christians point to Jesus.

While running for office last year, Philippines president Ferdinand “Bong Bong” Marcos Jr. promised to seek a new path to curb illegal drugs: Catch the “big fish” and rehabilitate drug users.

“Let’s educate the younger ones,” Marcos said in a Taglish interview. “And those who are already involved [or already addicted], we should treat them. … We’re trying to formulate … the best way for the rehabilitation.”

It’s a starkly different approach from his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, who outraged Filipinos and the international community with his brutal war on drugs, giving police blanket authority to kill anyone found using or dealing drugs.

During Duterte’s six-year presidential term, government data reported around 6,000 drug-related killings. Human rights groups, however, peg the number much higher, estimating that up to 30,000 people were killed.

“I will never, never apologize for the deaths,” Duterte said in January 2022. “Kill me, jail me, I will never apologize.”

Since taking office, Marcos has established more than 100 community-based drug rehab centers that provide drug users with temporary shelter and reintegrate them into society. Today there are nearly 500 of these centers, called Balay Silangan Reformation Centers, in the Philippines.

However, during the first year of Marcos’s presidency, the number of drug-related killings actually increased from the last year of Duterte’s term, according to a recent report by the Dahas Project at the University of the Philippines’ Third World Studies Center. They counted 342 killings from Marcos’s inauguration in July 2022 until June 2023, 40 more …

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