MORE than 24,000 drug personalities have been arrested under the administration of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. (PBBM) so far, underscoring its determination to continue his predecessor’s relentless war on drugs but with a greater focus on demand reduction, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) said.

Human Rights Watch, however, said the campaign has not been any less bloody.

A total of 24,159 drug personalities were arrested from July 1 to Nov. 24, 2022, DILG Secretary Benjamin “Benhur” Abalos Jr. said in a statement on Monday, Nov. 28, following the grand launch of PBBM’s new anti-illegal drug program.

Over the same period, some P9.9 billion worth of illegal drugs were seized in drug operations, including “990 kilograms of illegal drugs worth P6.7 billion in Tondo Manila, P408 million worth of shabu in Pampanga and P173 million worth of shabu in Quezon City,” he added.

The new anti-illegal drug program of PBBM is a multi-sectoral flagship program called “Buhay Ingatan, Droga’y Ayawan,” or Bida.

It focuses on “demand reduction and rehabilitation using a more intensified and holistic approach involving the national government agencies, local government units and other key sectors down to the grassroots level within the framework of the law, with respect for human rights, complemented by socioeconomic development,” the DILG said.

However, Abalos made it clear that there would be no letup on raids of drug dens and operations against drug peddlers and financiers under the Bida program.

He called on all sectors of society to work with government to rein in drug syndicates by reporting suspicious activities in their areas to the proper authorities.

The Bida program grand launching nationwide was held on Saturday, Nov. 26, through an event at the Quezon City Memorial Circle and activities in Cebu City, Cagayan de Oro City and Davao City.

Marcos’ predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, who won the presidency in 2016 with a vow to end the illegal drug menace in three to six months, led a bloody campaign against illegal drugs that resulted in 6,252 people getting killed during anti-drug operations and 345,216 persons arrested from July 1, 2016 to May 31, 2022, according to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency.

Last Oct. 5, Human Rights Watch said that since Marcos took office on June 30, “drug war” killings or other human rights violations had continued.

“Ninety drug-related deaths have been reported by the Third World Studies Center of the University of the Philippines during the new administration, including 41 since Marcos’ press secretary said on Aug. 11 that the ‘drug war’ would continue,” Human Rights Watch said.

The DILG first launched the Bida program at Rizal Park Hotel in Manila City last Oct. 7, during which it said a memorandum of understanding (MOU) had been signed among national government agencies, leagues of local government units (LGUs), the private sector, faith-based organizations and civil society organizations to support the program against illegal drugs.

Abalos said the MOU aimed to unify efforts of stakeholders against illegal drugs with the DILG leading in policy formulation and spearheading the program’s overall implementation from the Central to the LGU level.

The DILG would also “coordinate and provide technical assistance to LGUs and develop information, education and communication (IEC) materials and collaterals.”

According to Abalos, among the partners who signed the MOU were the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines, League of Provinces of the Philippines, League of Cities of the Philippines, League of Municipalities of the Philippines, Liga ng mga Barangay, Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Junior Chamber International, Association of Anti-Drug Abuse Coalition of the Philippines Inc., Iglesia ni Cristo, The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Manila, Imam Council of the Philippines Inc., Department of Finance, Department of Education and other government agencies.

During that event, Abalos said that since July 1, a “sustained information drive” had led to 330 illegal drug surrenderers going to police stations nationwide.

“Surrenderers” were a key point of the Duterte administration’s war on illegal drugs where people identified or called out, including by President Duterte himself, as being connected to the illegal drug trade are asked to turn themselves in and commit to stop engaging in the illegal drug trade, or face an aggressive and possibly violent pursuit by authorities. (CTL)