Social Science Research Council Research AMP Mediawell

Parish-Based Responses to the Philippine Drug War

Buckley, David T.; Brooke, Stephen
Program on Local Governance and Development

How do local religious institutions protect communities from state-sanctioned violence? This general
question has taken on particular importance in the Philippines, where populist President Rodrigo
Duterte has overseen a “Drug War” that has killed tens of thousands of citizens while triggering
opposition from prominent religious elites. In this paper we use an original, in-depth survey of
Catholic priests and lay parish leaders in an urban area heavily impacted by Drug War violence to
catalog how dozens of local parishes mobilize to protect their communities. We find two broad types
of mechanisms in operation: directly impacting the localized production of violence and indirectly
altering characteristics of the local community in ways likely to limit violence. Quantitative evidence
documents the widespread existence of both direct and indirect mechanisms of community
protection, is consistent with the more limited presence of some of the highest risk Drug War
responses, and demonstrates an association between parish capacity and these protective mechanisms.
Qualitative evidence traces the links between parish activities and particular cases of community
protection, highlighting the coexistence of rationalistic and normative logics through which
institutions reduce violence. Interviews also foreground some of the obstacles that even highly
motivated and capacious institutions face in organizing local protection.