Philippines Catholic leaders against drug campaign killings

Cardinal Luis Tagle at the Million People March protest held in Luneta.
By Eric James Sarmiento (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Faith leaders speak out against police killing spree

Luis Tagle, the Cardinal of Manila, and head of the Catholic Church in Philippines has severely criticized the Rodrigo Duterte-led Government for its violence-ridden campaign against drugs. The campaign has led to the deaths of about 12,500 people since President Duterte took office June last year. Rights groups claim many of those killed are innocent. One such killing has been the tipping point for renewed criticism. It involves the police shooting dead a 17-year-old.

Unlawful killings by Filipino police is nothing new. Police raids led to deaths of about 76 people during the third week of August. Public anger erupted when Kian Delos Santos, a schoolboy, was killed by law enforcement. According to the police, he shot at them first. CCTV footage recovered from the scene showed two men carrying the body to the alleyway where the body was ultimately found. This killing, even by Filipino police's dubious violent standards, has touched a nerve. Filipino lawmakers have labeled the latest law enforcement operation as a “killing spree.” They plan to summon top police officers to the senate in the coming days.

Protests against the killings have also now included influential church leaders. They are now protesting against the concerted targeting of small time drug dealers and drug users. Cardinal Tagle urged police officers to listen to their conscience and not to kill the helpless, thereby saving human lives. He said, “The illegal drug problem should not be reduced to a political or criminal issue. It is a humanitarian concern that affects all of us.” The archbishop asked for nine days' prayer for the victims.

Archbishop Tagle's words found support in Archbishop Socrates Villegas. The latter asked churches to ring bells at eight in the night to wake up the conscience of the authorities. In a statement, Archbishop Villegas said, “You shall not kill. That is a sin. That is against the law.” The Catholic Church has played a major role in Philippine politics, and was instrumental in overthrowing the dictator Ferdinand Marcos. The Catholic Church has started the campaign against Duterte believing that the President's war on drugs have taken the lives of many poor people.

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