Pope Francis endorses drug rehab led by Cardinal Tagle

Paterno R. Esmaquel II
Pope Francis endorses drug rehab led by Cardinal Tagle
'That's the way to go,' Pope Francis says, in his first publicly known comment on the Philippines' drug problem, as President Rodrigo Duterte wages a bloody war on drugs

MANILA, Philippines – Pope Francis endorsed the drug rehabilitation program led by Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, which the pontiff said is “the way to go” in addressing the drug problem. 

This is the Pope’s first publicly known comment on the Philippines’ drug problem, as President Rodrigo Duterte wages a bloody drug war criticized by bishops. (READ: Church to hold EDSA march vs killings on November 5)

Tagle disclosed the Pope’s views on Saturday, October 21, during the first annual assembly of Sanlakbay, the community-based drug rehabilitation program of the Archdiocese of Manila. 

Tagle said he met with Francis in Rome around two weeks ago, and told him about Sanlakbay, among other pressing concerns.

“Naikuwento ko sa kanya ang Sanlakbay. Ang kanyang mga mata ay parang mga bituin na nagningning. At sabi po niya, that’s the way to go,” Tagle said.

(I told him about Sanlakbay. His eyes twinkled like stars. And he said, that’s the way to go.)

“Sabi niya, continue, continue that. Galing na po sa Santo Papa,” Tagle added. (He said, continue, continue that. That came from the Holy Father himself.)

Referring to the Pope’s comments, Tagle added: “Kaya meron tayong encouragement. Meron din tayong misyon.” (That’s why we have encouragement. We also have a mission.)

Duterte’s comments

The Pope’s comment comes as Duterte claims the Catholic Church has done nothing to stop illegal drugs.

Duterte said in January“Kayong mga pari, mga obispo – ang gaganda ng suot ‘nyo. Mayroon ba kayong isang bahay, maski 5 kuwarto para sa rehab?” (You priests, bishops – your clothes are so nice. Do you have even a house or 5 rooms for drug rehabilitation?)

Contrary to Duterte’s claims, however, the Catholic Church has run drug rehabilitation programs years before the longtime Davao City mayor became Philippine president.

The Diocese of Malolos in Bulacan, for instance, has run a drug rehabilitation program in Galilee Home, Doña Remedios Trinidad, for 27 years now.

The Diocese of Cubao also has Pareform, the Pastoral Approach to Rehabilitation and Formation, a drug rehabilitation program that involves not only counseling but also prayer sessions.

Recently, too, the Diocese of Novaliches signed a partnership agreement for a drug rehabilitation program involving Barangay Batasan Hills, Quezon City. 

Explaining the Archdiocese of Manila’s Sanlakbay, Tagle said drug users can always change for the better. 

The Philippines’ most influential cardinal told former drug dependents on Saturday, “No one can say that you are a hopeless case.” –

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email