By May 10, the Philippines almost certainly knew who its next president would be: Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the 64-year-old former senator and only son of the former dictator. As the votes were counted, “Bongbong,” as he is colloquially known, appeared to have won by a landslide. He will inherit the presidency from Rodrigo Duterte, the hardline populist who has—among other well-documented abuses, like his assault on the free press—levied one of the world’s most brutal drug wars.
“We are afraid for the lives of people who use drugs, their families, and already marginalized communities.”
Knowing his close ties to Duterte, many harm reduction and human rights groups fear that Marcos Jr. will continue his predecessor’s assault on drug users—and could even make it worse.
“We are afraid for the lives of people who use drugs, their families, and already marginalized communities who have been disproportionately targeted by Duterte’s bloody campaign, and anyone who has been campaigning against the punitive drug laws in the country,” Ajeng Larasati, the human rights lead at Harm Reduction International (HRI), told Filter.
Duterte, a former mayor of Davao City known for backing up violent rhetoric with action, wasted no time after taking office in 2016, giving law enforcement de facto approval to carry out extrajudicial killings of people suspected of using or selling drugs.“If you know of any addicts, go ahead and kill them yourself,” he said in his inauguration speech.
In the years since, it’s estimated that Philippine police and vigilantes have murdered tens of thousands of people. Yet polls showed that Duterte’s domestic approval ratings remained high, even as he drew international condemnation. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has launched an investigation into Duterte’s violent tactics, and there will be many demands for Marcos Jr. to reverse course.
But Marcos Jr.’s ascension to the presidency has, in many ways, been a journey in ignoring history: In 1986, millions of Filipinos united to protest the corruption of Marcos Sr., who had funneled billions of dollars from the treasury to his family’s own bank accounts and had installed martial law for nearly half of his 20-year-plus rule. The family went into exile, but by the early 1990s, Marcos Jr. returned, immediately beginning something of a decades-long rehabilitation campaign to restore their image: He entered local politics at first, and in 2010, he became an influential senator. They have kept steady political ties with Duterte as well; Sara Duterte, Rodrigo.’s daughter, ran as vice president on Marco Jr.’s ticket.
“International organizations and human rights activists must continue to monitor, criticize, and take action.”
Human Rights Watch has already called for Marcos Jr. to improve human rights in the country. “He should declare an end to the ‘war on drugs’ that has resulted in the extrajudicial killing of thousands of Filipinos, and order the impartial investigation and appropriate prosecution of officials responsible for the these unlawful killings,” Phil Robertson, the group’s deputy director for Asia, said in a press statement.
In a 2021 report that provided a global overview of the death penalty for drug charges, HRI expressed fear that Marcos Jr. might push forward a death penalty bill for drug traffickers that Duterte had long supported, but which had been delayed by the legislature.
“International organizations and human rights activists must continue to monitor, criticize, and take action on the past, present, and future atrocities committed by the Filipino government in the name of the drug war,” Larasati said.