The number of deaths in the so-called War on Drugs went up again in 2021 – to a total of 545. On January 4, 2022, Rodrigo Duterte said he would never apologize for the deaths.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) temporarily halted the emboldened investigation for crimes against humanity, following a petition of the Philippine government. Now, many families whose loved ones were killed during Duterte’s first year in office are affected by the expiration of grave rents. A renewal must be paid five years after a burial, which most cannot afford. The remains are exhumed and reburied in mass graves, sometimes without notification of the family. According to Flavie Villanueva, Catholic priest and activist, this situation causes retraumatization because “they’re losing them again because they have to make a choice between food on the table or have to sell the house to save some money in order to renew the contract in the cemetery.” Through the Program Paghilom, Villanueva supports those affected to have their loved ones cremated after exhumation. Paying for this through donations is a major challenge, as many more families will be facing this situation in the coming years, he said.
The question of how Duterte’s legacy will be dealt with under the new legislature is preoccupying the current election campaign. The presidential candidates agree that the campaign against illegal drugs must continue – but using different methods. These could include an increased focus on prevention and rehabilitation, and the prosecution of drug manufacturers rather than regular drug dealers.
Photo © Raffy Lerma