MANILA, Philippines — As the Philippines’ controversial drug war rages on, Catholic parishes are working with local government to provide drug rehab and prevention centers to meet the needs of a growing number of recovering addicts.
“Sanlakbay program is the response of the Catholic Church to the rising concern in handling the influx of thousands of drug surrenderees resulting from the present administration’s war on illegal drugs,” read an Oct. 23 announcement from the Archdiocese of Manila.
“The program strengthens the preventive phase of Restorative Justice Ministry of Caritas Manila aimed at helping in the healing, rehabilitation and restoration of the drug surrenderers and their families through spiritual formation, counseling, livelihood projects and skills formation training, as well as arts and cultural program and sports activities for holistic development.”
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, archbishop of Manila, officially launched the “Sanlakbay para sa Pagbabagong buhay” program on Oct. 23 at the Manila Cathedral, where he encouraged parishioners to volunteer at the parochial rehab centers in an effort “to stop the spread of illegal drugs, as well as corruption and criminality.”
The rehab centers come as a response to President Rodrigo Duterte, who recently implemented the use of scare tactics, death sentences and violence to decrease illicit drug crimes and clean up the Filipino drug underworld.
However, the country’s bishops have decried the use of violence against drug dealers and users, saying that “God never gave up on us. We have no right giving up on ourselves or on our brothers and sisters.”
Other prominent Filipino leaders are wary of the president’s violent campaign, such as Senator Leila de Lima, who is asking for an international probe into Duterte’s drug war. According to TIME, de Lima has said that the thousands of lives claimed by the president’s drug war should be considered crimes against humanity.
As of Oct. 6, the Philippine National Police estimated 734,231 drug dealers and users have turned themselves in, creating a massive influx of people in need of rehabilitation.
Tagle is hoping that the rehab centers will be a place of healing and mercy, where recovering addicts can find the assistance and care that they need. He also pointed to Pope Francis’s Jubilee Year of Mercy indulgence letter, in which the pontiff says that the Jubilee Year will provide “an opportunity for great amnesty” to those “deserving punishment.”
In order to care for as many surrenderees as possible, the Church has set up the centers at various different parishes around the archdiocese. The centers are also uniting parochial resources “with the Local Government Units particularly with the Barangays to facilitate effectively and efficiently all legal requirements in the implementation of the rehabilitation process.”
According to the archdiocese, the rehab centers will include “paralegal assistance, religious studies (bible study, catechesis), livelihood training, education, advocacy, services for social action, and medical assistance.”
These centers will also collaborate with pre-existing ministries, such as the Caritas Manila’s Restorative Justice Ministry, Center for Family Ministries, University of Santo Tomas (UST) Graduate School Psycho-Trauma, Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), and Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA).
The first few waves of rehab volunteer orientation have taken place, but the centers are still looking for additional volunteers. (More information can be found at http://www.rcam.org).