1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

What happens to the drug war under Marcos Jr.?

Ana P. Santos
July 19, 2022

Human rights groups and grieving families who have lost their loved ones in the bloody campaign against drugs fear that the same violence will continue and justice will elude them under Ferdinand Marcos Jr.'s presidency.

Philippinen Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and his wife Maria Louise at his presidential swearing-in ceremony
Marcos Jr. has said that he is not in favor of an ICC investigation into the deadly anti-drug campaign under his predecessorImage: Aaron Favila/dpa/picture alliance

"We are so afraid that blood will continue to spill and it will be the same hell under Marcos Jr.," said Cristina, who asked that only her first name be used for fear of repercussions.    

Cristina told DW that she has lost three of her sons in violence related to the deadly "war on drugs" that former President Rodrigo Duterte launched in 2016.

Anthony was found dead in 2017, his head wrapped in packaging tape and a gunshot to his temple. Police said he was in possession of drugs.

Jay-Ar was killed in 2019 in a police buy-bust operation. Andy was shot dead by what witnesses describe as six masked assailants days before Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was sworn in as president last month.

Andy was released from detention on May 21, after pleading guilty to drug charges in exchange for an early release. 

"I'm so sure that his release made him a marked target. I wish he had just stayed in detention. Maybe he would still be alive," Cristina said.

"I hope for justice for my sons, but how can I expect that with Marcos Jr. as president and Duterte's daughter as vice president?" she added.

In the run-up to the 2022 presidential elections, Marcos Jr. — the son and namesake of the former dictator who ruled the Philippines from 1965 to 1986 — formed a political alliance with Sara Duterte, daughter of former President Duterte.

The two scored landslide victories, with overwhelming margins not seen in decades.

Blood and violence of the drug campaign

Under the Duterte administration, more than 6,000 people were killed in police operations to crack down on illegal drugs, according to government data. 

Human rights groups say that the death toll was much higher, estimating the figure to be around 20,000.

The brazen violence of the anti-drug campaign has been condemned by international organizations and Western governments.

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said at the end of June that he would seek to reopen an investigation into the killings and other suspected rights abuses under the Duterte administration.

The probe had been suspended in November at Manila's request, with Philippine officials citing their own investigations into the killings.

'Lack of accountability is a crucial problem'

"The ICC will continue its processes on this investigation regardless of the domestic context. Continuing the probe is about the only thing we have to push for accountability because other mechanisms have so far failed," Carlos Conde, senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, told DW.

Even while the ICC considers reopening its investigation, accountability is another matter. Marcos Jr. has said that he is not in favor of an ICC investigation.

"Under this new government, the lack of accountability will be as crucial a problem as the continuation of the drug war violence," Conde added.

Last month, Wilkins Villanueva, head of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) urged Marcos Jr. to intensify the drug campaign. 

"Marcos Jr. will be under pressure to continue the drug war. Under whatever agreement he had with the Dutertes, he will protect the former president and his lieutenants from accountability," Conde underlined. 

Meanwhile, many of those who died in the drug war were buried in temporary graves whose five-year lease has now expired.

Flavie Villanueva, a priest who started a program that provides grieving families with food assistance and counseling resources, has now started Project Arise to deal with that fact.

Villanueva's program exhumes bodies from their temporary graves, has them cremated and the ashes placed in a more permanent location.

"Under Marcos Jr. and Duterte, these things will continue: culture of impunity, mistrust of authority, and poverty, because those being killed are mostly the family breadwinners. And with this, the deep-seated wounds of those who have lost their loved ones," Villanueva told DW. 

Remembering and grieving

While justice for the victims may remain elusive under the current administration, rights activists say that families must be given a venue both inside and outside the country to express their grief and amplify their rage. 

At the documenta art show in Kassel, Germany's renowned international exhibition of modern art held every five years, Filipino activists and human rights defenders held up a giant banner emblazoned with "Stop the Killings," spelled out in thousands of small black plates.

In Philippine culture, pinning a small black plate on one's clothing is a sign of mourning. 

Similar demonstrations with the "Stop the Killings" banner have been held in the United States and across Europe.

"We expect a similar drug war under the Marcos-Duterte administration. But this will not affect our resolve to call for greater solidarity so that this issue will not be forgotten," visual artist and one of the demonstrators Kiri Dalena said, adding: "Solidarity and opposition will have to come from all over, not only the Philippines."

Edited by: Srinivas Mazumdaru

Skip next section DW's Top Story

DW's Top Story

Jogger runs by US Capitol
Skip next section More stories from DW
Go to homepage