Faith

As Philippine drug war rages on, Christians continue their work

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While running for office last year, Philippine President Ferdinand “Bong Bong” Marcos Jr. promised to seek a new path to curb illegal drugs: catch the “big fish” and rehabilitate drug users.

“Let’s educate the youngest,” Marcos said in Taglish interview. “And those who are already involved [or already addicted], we should treat them. …We are trying to formulate…the best way for rehabilitation.”

It is a radically different approach from his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, who outraged Filipinos and the international community with his brutal war on drugs, giving police blanket authority to kill anyone found using or trafficking drugs.

During Duterte’s six-year presidential term, government data reported about 6,000 drug-related murders. Human rights groups, however, plug The number was much higher, with estimates that up to 30,000 people died.

“I will never, ever apologize for the deaths,” Duterte saying in January 2022. “Kill me, imprison me, I will never apologize.”

Since taking office, Marcos has established More than 100 community drug rehabilitation centers that provide drug users with temporary shelter and reintegrate them into society. Today there are about 500 such centers, called Balay Silangan Reform Centers, in the Philippines.

However, during the first year of the Marcos presidency, the number of drug related murders actually increased since the last year of Duterte’s term, according to a recent report by the Dahas Project of the Center for Third World Studies of the University of the Philippines. They counted 342 murders from Marcos’ inauguration in July 2022 to June 2023, 40 more than the previous year. Of that number, state agents murdered a total of 146 people.

Study researcher Joel Ariate Jr. said Rappler says that while Marcos touts a different approach, the policy has not changed because the officials who implemented Duterte’s war on drugs are still in power.

“No one is held accountable for those killed before,” Ariate told Rappler. “There is no sense of justice or punishment. What will stop those who killed and continue to kill?

While the government tries different approaches to address drug problems in the Philippines, Christians involved in drug prevention and rehabilitation ministries continue their work quietly and faithfully. While government policies may affect who comes to their doors, regardless, they continue to see God rescuing men and women from their addictions.

Two ways to wage a war on drugs

The Philippines has long faced a drug abuse problem, as its geographic location allows international drug syndicates to use it as a major market and transit hub for the illegal drug trade in Southeast Asia. Approximately 1.67 million Filipinos used drugs in 2019, according to the government drug office.

Citizens fed up with corruption and crime elected the hardline Duterte in 2016. Duterte, a former mayor of Davao City, ruled the city for more than 22 years with an iron fist. “If I am elected president, give me three to six months, I will get rid of corruption, drugs and crime,” Duterte. declared during his presidential campaign.

Duterte granted police immunity in the war on drugs, which in some cases led corrupt police to kill people with no connection to drugs. For example, a 2017 police raid in Caloocan City left 17-year-old Kian Loyd delos Santos dead. On him were two small bags of shabu (slang for methamphetamine) and a .45 caliber pistol.

The police claimed that he was a suspected drug dealer who resisted arrest and shot them, forcing them to respond. But witnesses and CCTV images revealed that the young man was pleading for his life. Gunpowder tests confirmed Delos Santos’ innocence, while journalists found They had planted the drugs and the gun on him.

The death of Delos Santos caused shock. Authorities tried the three police officers involved in the murder and found them guilty of murder.

An investigation by the International Criminal Court found that only 507 of the 42,286 anti-drug operations carried out in the first year and a half of the Duterte government were based on an arrest warrant.

Marcos has worked to differentiate his approach from that of his predecessor. “The campaign against illegal drugs continues, but it has taken on a new face,” Marcos saying in his second State of the Union address in July. “It is now geared towards community-based treatment, rehabilitation, education and reintegration to curb drug dependency among our affected citizens.”

Leading Christian anti-drug ministries have witnessed the repercussions of the whiplash on government policy. Since Marcos came to power, “illegal drugs have proliferated again, [even] in our maximum prisons, with inmates as packers,” said Ariston Lee, executive director of Philippine Teen Challenge, a Christian drug addiction treatment center that has operated in the country for 35 years. (Packers refers to dealers who repackage drugs into smaller bags for sale.)

Ginno Amodia, director of House of Hope (HOH) on the island of Cebu, said fewer residents are now coming to Christian rehabilitation, and that is not necessarily because there are fewer drug users. Rather, “fleeting drug rehab centers sprang up” during Duterte’s presidency as some people saw strict drug laws as a business opportunity.

“Every barangay [neighborhood] We would have an outpatient program,” Amodia said. “A person with a drug addiction problem only needs to visit the barangay once a week and attend a two-hour Narcotics Anonymous session. The government no longer requires them to go to a full rehabilitation center like ours.”

As a result of this and factors such as the pandemic, House of Hope today has 10 residents, compared to the usual 20 to 30 residents. House of Hope does not receive government funding, but rather sponsors (including churches, businesses, and individuals) financially assist drug addicts who cannot afford the center’s monthly fee.

Showing the gospel to at-risk youth

Christian groups are also working to prevent young people from taking drugs. Abegail Mesa-Raymundo, founder of Rescue Kabataan (which means Rescue Youth), runs an eight-month mental health program in partner schools. This school year, Rescue Kabataan is helping students in General Santos City in Mindanao and Taytay, Rizal in Luzon.

Volunteers from local churches regularly visit schools to create a safe space to help high school students deal with problems such as drugs, sexual abuse, pornography, suicide, relationship problems, and teen pregnancy. Rescue Kabataan has carried out the program in 31 schools in 16 cities and townships.

“God can use Rescue Kabataan to show his love,” he said. “We don’t share the gospel but we show it.”

Each program begins with Mesa-Raymundo telling his story. As a teenager, the pastor’s daughter began smoking, drinking, engaging in promiscuous activities, and using drugs after the death of her father. At first she smelled “rugby” (a type of glue), then she moved on to ecstasy and other party drugs. At 19 she was gang raped. When she was in her early 20s, she dedicated herself to prostitution.

Mesa-Raymundo later lost her job as a teacher after having inappropriate relationships with her students. Overwhelmed by everything that had happened, she attempted suicide three times. But it wasn’t until she overdosed at age 23 in 2011 that she begged God to give her another chance.

With the help of a group of Christians, he was able to not only stop using drugs but also find spiritual and emotional rehabilitation. During a two-week prayer and fasting retreat, God gave him a vision to help other troubled young people. It was at that moment that Rescue Kabataan was born.

In 2015, Mesa-Raymundo told her story to a crowd of 700 students at a school for the first time, encouraging students to also bare their hearts. Many more invitations to speak at other schools and the creation of the holistic mental health program followed.

Rescue Kabataan volunteers range from young professionals to full-time mothers, from business owners to retirees. They serve as accountable partners to students and share God’s love with them.

One success story is that of a ninth grade student who began using drugs at the age of seven, due to the influence of his drug-addicted parents. “I’m ready to be rescued,” he told a Rescue Kabataan volunteer. The group then referred him to the social welfare department, where a social worker helped him recover from his addiction while he continued to attend Rescue Kabataan sessions. His grades, his outlook, and his life improved dramatically.

Seeing changes in the gospel at House of Hope

In Cebu, Amodia is busy with the daily rhythms of House of Hope. Founded by a former addict from Singapore in 1997, the center has been run entirely by Filipinos since 2007. Amodia highlighted the importance of the four components of its year-long in-house program: spiritual therapy, work therapy, physiotherapy and social therapy .

Every day at House of Hope begins and ends with the Word of God. Residents participate in morning quiet time, daily Bible study, and afternoon quiet time. Residents are assigned different tasks, such as gardening, food preparation, and filling five-gallon water bottles for delivery using their water purification system.

Every afternoon they spend time playing sports, while on Sundays residents go to their assigned churches. Doing so helps them meet friends outside the House of Hope community, Amodia said. Once residents graduate from the program, they continue to attend churches.

All of the staff at House of Hope are former drug addicts. Amodia entered the program in 2001 when she was 24 years old and was her last hope. Two months earlier, she had completed a government-sponsored rehabilitation program that required its residents to perform military-style exercises. However, once she left, she reverted to his old ways.

“My family abandoned me,” he recalled. On the recommendation of another former drug addict, she applied for residency at House of Hope. There, Amodia met Jesus, who, she said, freed her from the demons of addiction. After completing the program, he joined the staff.

Amodia sees Jesus doing what government policies cannot: “The gospel really changes people.”



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