International Criminal Court

SONA 2023: Marcos says anti-illegal drug campaign has ‘new face’

Jodesz Gavilan

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SONA 2023: Marcos says anti-illegal drug campaign has ‘new face’

SONA. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr delivers his second State of the Nation Address at Congress on July 24, 2023.

Screengrab from RTVM

There are at least 342 drug-related killings during Marcos' first year in office, with 120 killed in anti-illegal drug operations, according to the Dahas Project of the UP Third World Studies Center

MANILA, Philippines – President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. departed from violent rhetoric and touted on Monday, July 24, the refocus of the anti-illegal drug campaign that has killed thousands under his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte. 

“The campaign against illegal drugs continues, but it has taken on a new face,” Marcos said during his second State of the Nation Address (SONA). He added it was now “geared towards community-based treatment, rehabilitation, education, and reintegration, to curb drug dependence among our affected citizenry.” 

SONA 2023: Marcos says anti-illegal drug campaign has ‘new face’

This is Marcos’ latest pronouncement that signaled how different his approach to the drug issue in the Philippines would be compared to that of Duterte. The President previously said that a “focus on enforcement” resulted in “abuses by certain elements in the government,” and that it “only gets you so far.”

The Duterte administration’s war on drugs killed at least 6,252 people in anti-illegal drug operations between July 2016 and May 31, 2022, according to the police. The death toll is estimated to rise to between 27,000 and 30,000 if victims of extrajudicial killings are included, according to independent monitoring by human rights groups. 

Shutting down drug syndicates

Marcos also said that his government would “relentlessly continue” the fight against illegal drug syndicates by shutting down and dismantling networks, including those involved who are part of the Philippine National Police (PNP), among others.

“Unscrupulous law enforcers and others involved in the highly nefarious drug trade have been exposed. I will be accepting their resignations,” he said. 

Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos in January 2023 asked full police colonels and generals to file their courtesy resignations in relation to the government’s efforts to cleanse the PNP ranks of police with alleged involvement in illegal drugs. This came after the discovery in October 2022 of the P6.7-billion shabu haul and the arrest of a police officer involved.

In June, Abalos said that a “powerful syndicate” was behind the P6.7-billion shabu mess, adding that those were involved were tagged as “very evil persons…who will hurt you where it will hurt you the most.”

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Continued killings, impunity

Despite the pronouncements of Marcos, the situation on the ground is still far from peaceful.

At least 342 drug-related killings were recorded from July 1, 2022, to June 30, 2023, according to the Dahas Project of the University of the Philippines’ Third World Studies Center. Out of this number, 120 were killed in government anti-illegal drug operations.

Families also reported the continued killings committed by unknown individuals, specially in the poorest communities in Metro Manila.

Marcos also made no mention during his SONA of how he planned to give justice to the thousands of victims under Duterte’s drug war, especially after the International Criminal Court (ICC) junked his government’s appeal that sought to block an investigation.

Only a few have been convicted in drug war-related killings in the Philippines, including the policemen involved in the deaths of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos, Carl Angelo Arnaiz, and Reynaldo “Kulot” de Guzman.

Marcos on July 21 said that his administration “will not cooperate with [the ICC] in any way, or form.” –

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Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and impunity beats, producing in-depth and investigative reports particularly on the quest for justice of victims of former president Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs and war on dissent.