Philippines bishops: Trust in God, not Duterte's deadly drug war

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President Rodrigo R. Duterte. Credit: Ace Morandante, Wikipedia Public Domain.

Though the Philippines president has professed a willingness to go “to hell” to win his deadly war on drugs, the country’s bishops have said Catholics must speak out against its evils.

“This traffic in illegal drugs needs to be stopped and overcome. But the solution does not lie in the killing of suspected drug users and pushers,” they said.

“The life of every person comes from God. It is he who gives it, and it is he alone who can take it back. Not even the government has a right to kill life because it is only God's steward and not the owner of life.”

Silence in the face of evil means becoming an accomplice to it, they warned.

“If we neglect the drug addicts and pushers we have become part of the drug problem, if we consent or allow the killing of suspected drug addicts, we shall also be responsible for their deaths.”

The pastoral letter, dated Jan. 30, bears the signature of Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. It was read at all Sunday Masses Feb. 5. The letter comes soon after the bishops’ biannual plenary assembly held in Manila. It took its title from Ezekiel 32, in which God says “For I find no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies.”

President Rodrigo Duterte's violent crackdown on drug use has claimed more than 6,000 lives in the six months since he took office. At least 2,250 drug suspects have been reported killed by police, while at least 3,700 others were murdered by unknown suspects who sometimes accused their victims of being drug dealers or addicts, according to Agence France Presse.

Many priests and bishops have been afraid to speak out against the killings, Jerome Secillano, public affairs chief for the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, said in January.

The pastoral letter appeared aimed to break the silence.

“Let us not allow fear to reign and keep us silent. Let us put into practice not only our native inner strength but the strength that comes from our Christian faith,” the bishops said.

They warned of a “reign of terror” and the lack of justice against those who commit killings. They rebuked indifference to the killings and those claim the killings are “something that needs to be done.”

Those who murder drug dealers are also committing grave sins, the bishops said.

“We cannot correct a wrong by doing another wrong,” they explained. “A good purpose is not a justification for using evil means. It is good to remove the drug problem, but to kill in order to achieve this is also wrong.”

Duterte’s response to the pastoral letter was adamant.

“You Catholics, if you believe in your priests and bishops, you stay with them,” the president said Sunday. “If you want to go to heaven, then go to them. Now, if you want to end drugs ... I will go to hell, come join me.”

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella, a former pastor of an evangelical Protestant church, said that the bishops’ conference appears “out of touch with the sentiments of the faithful who overwhelmingly support the changes in the Philippines,” Fox News reports.

For their part, the bishops stressed the importance of presuming an accused person is innocent. They said legal processes must be followed and society has processes to apprehend, convict and punish those who are guilty of crimes.

According to the bishops, there are several root causes of drug problems and criminality: poverty, family breakdown, and corruption. They said people should address these problems through anti-poverty efforts to provide employment and living wages; family strengthening efforts; and reform in the country’s police forces, judicial systems and politics.

Every person has the chance to change because of God’s mercy, the bishops said. The Catholic Church’s recently concluded Year of Mercy deepened awareness that Jesus Christ “offered his own life for sinners, to redeem them and give them a new future.”

“To destroy one’s own life and the life of another, is a grave sin and does evil to society. The use of drugs is a sign that a person no longer values his own life, and endangers the lives of others. We must all work together to solve the drug problem and work for the rehabilitation of drug addicts,” the bishops said.

“We in the Church will continue to speak against evil even as we acknowledge and repent of our own shortcomings. We will do this even if it will bring persecution upon us because we are all brothers and sisters responsible for each other. We will help drug addicts so that they may be healed and start a new life.”

The bishops said they will stand with the families of those who have been killed.

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