The Philippine Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) officially launched the new government anti-drug program on November 26, 2022. The program, Buhay Ingatan, Droga’y Ayaw (Take care of life, Don’t want drugs), is intended to take a “holistic” approach, involving relevant national and local government agencies as well as church and religious groups in the fight against illegal drug use. The program’s primary goal is to reduce the demand for drugs. This is to be implemented within the framework of laws and international human rights standards, and with a focus on rehabilitation.
Human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Karapatan welcome the health-oriented approach but also expressed concerns: A genuine program, they said, should include and ensure accountability for abuses and human rights violations committed in relation to the anti-drug program. According to data from the university project Dahas, there were 152 drug-related extrajudicial killings in the first five months of the Marcos administration, which are more than the 149 killings in the last six months of the Duterte administration. In addition, over 24,000 people have already been arrested during the Marcos term as part of the so-called “war on drugs.”
Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos and DILG Undersecretary Margarita Gutierrez acknowledged that the previous administration focused its “war on drugs” on prosecution. According to Abalos, the DILG’s new approach will be “pro-life.” Instead of curbing the “war on drugs”, the current administration wants to intensify it. “President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. stated that he will not let this fire die out, and that our war on illegal drugs will press on stronger than ever before,” Gutierrez said.
For HRW senior researcher Carlos Conde, the government’s statements “are just rhetoric for now, designed to make it appear to the public and the international community that things are changing in the Philippines.” This was echoed by Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay. Bayan Secretary General Renato Reyes said the government needs to increase overall funding for the health sector so that drug rehabilitation can be effective.
Action against a “culture of impunity” also drew attention from Bienvenido “Benny” Abante Jr. chairman of the Human Rights Committee of the House Representatives. Abante said that the Human Rights Committee in the 19th Congress wants to pass two crucial measures: The first is to strengthen the Commission on Human Rights and the second is to pass the Human Rights Defenders Protection Act.