Archbishops decry killing of 17-year-old in Duterte’s war on drugs

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File photo by Alvin Joseph Kasiban

Archbishops on Saturday decried the “normalization” of extrajudicial killings (EJK) as a result of President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs, following the killing of a 17-year-old senior high student in an anti-drug operation.

Archbishop Socrates Villegas, outgoing president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, condemned Filipinos who justify EJKs during “Oplan Tokhang” raids.

Tokhang is shorthand for Operation “Knock and Plead,” wherein police are only supposed to convince drug suspects to turn themselves in. But the raids often turn bloody, and thousands of suspects have been reported killed.

“Pumapalakpak ang kababayan at sumisigaw nang may ngiti, ‘Dapat lang!’ habang binibilang ang bangkay sa dilim. Kapag nanindigan para sa dukhang na-tokhang, tiyak na maliligo ka sa mura at banta,” Villegas said in his pastoral letter titled “Ang Kampanya ng Konsensiya.”

The Lingayen-Dagupan archbishop directed all churches in Lingayen in Pangasinan to ring their bells for 15 minutes every 8 p.m. from Aug. 22 to Nov. 27 as a wake-up call to those who tolerate injustices such as extrajudicial killings.

“Ang tunog ng kampana ay tinig ng Diyos na sana ay gumising sa konsensiyang manhid at bulag. [A]ng bagting ng kampana ay tawag ng paggising sa bayang hindi na marunong makiramay sa ulila, nakalimutan ng makiramay at duwag na magalit sa kasamaan,” he said.

Grade 11 student Kian de los Santos was killed in an anti-drug operation on Aug. 18 in Caloocan after allegedly resisting arresting officers, causing public outcry in social media.

Echoing Villegas’s call for sympathy, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle said listening to human stories, not just statistics, was needed to fully comprehend Duterte’s war on drugs.

“Families with members who have been destroyed by illegal drugs, [who] have been killed in the drug war especially the innocent ones must be allowed to tell their stories. Drug addicts who have been recovered must tell their stories of hope,” he said in a separate pastoral letter.

The country’s illegal drug problem is “destructive” but should not be reduced to a criminal or political issue, he added.

“It is a humanitarian concern that affects all of us. Given the complexity of the issues, no single individual, group, or institution could claim to have the only right response,” he said.

Tagle also urged parishes throughout the country to emulate the Archdiocese of Manila’s parish-based drug rehabilitation program “Sanlakbay,” in partnership with the local government and police.

He called on parishes in the Manila archdiocese to offer prayers in Masses from August 21 to August 29 for the repose of all who were killed in the President’s drug war, for their families and for the conversion of killers.

Thirty-two drug suspects were killed last Aug. 15, the highest death toll in a day after a “One Time Big Time Operation” in Bulacan.

Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Ronald de la Rosa has defended his policemen, saying he “would rather have them alive” in every police operation.

President Duterte had said police and military officers would be spared from legal penalties as they carry out the war on drugs.

New York-based Human Rights Watch has reported that over 7,000 Filipinos have killed in Duterte’s war on drugs, with at least 2,000 of these deaths attributed to the PNP.

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