CHURCHES in the Philippines should ring their bells every evening as a “wake-up call for a nation that no longer knows how to condole with the bereaved”, a Roman Catholic archbishop has said, as the Church continues to speak out against President Duterte’s so-called war on drugs.
The President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, Archbishop Socrates Villegas, spoke out after 32 people were killed by police in a single day, last week. He spoke of a nation that was “too cowardly” to condemn the violence.
The number of dead of Monday of last week is believed to be the highest in a single day since the President began his crackdown after taking power last year. The total killed last week was 60.
Amnesty International spoke of “new depths of barbarity, with police routinely gunning down suspects, violating the key right to life and completely flouting due process”.
Most of the killings took place in Bulacan province, home to poor communities that, Amnesty reports, “bear the brunt of this brutality”. A report by the charity, If You Are Poor You Are Killed, published this year, said that the police had killed, or paid others to kill, thousands of alleged drug offenders in extrajudicial executions.
Among those killed last week was a 17-year-old boy. Security cameras showed him being dragged away by two officers. Members of the Philippine Senate have condemned the killing.
“We knock on the consciences of those who kill even the helpless, especially those who cover their faces, to stop wasting human lives,” the Cardinal of Manila, the Most Revd Luis Tagle, wrote in a statement read out on Sunday. “The illegal drug problem should not be reduced to a political or criminal issue. It is a humanitarian concern that affects all of us.”
Governments statistics state that more than 3000 drugs suspects have been killed in anti-drug operations since Mr Duterte became President in June 2016. Thousands more are believed to have been killed by vigilantes. This month, Public Radio International reported on how, in addition to speaking out, the Church was supporting victims’ families with counselling and funds to cover funerals and living expenses, and partnering with human-rights lawyers. Some parishes are sheltering people who are hiding from the police.
“A victim’s mother told me that they know they are ‘unworthy’ people, and that no one would stand up for them,” the Bishop of Kalookan, the Rt Revd Pablo David, said. “It is as if we have accepted the narrative that people who use drugs deserve to die. . . We cannot let these killings continue. We will lose our conscience and our soul.”