PHILIPPINES – Bishops call for justice as war on drugs escalates
Over 2000 people are reported to have been killed – 900 by police allegedly while resisting arrest and over 1000 by vigilantes – in the last three months as a result of President Rodrigo Duterte’s merciless war against drugs. The President has implied impunity for law enforcement officers who kill, saying that ‘police and soldiers will never go to prison, not on my watch’. In response to the killings, the Bishops Conference of the Philippines issued a pastoral appeal for an end to the violence and encouraging efforts to maintain law and order.
A statement issued by the bishops said: “We are disturbed by an increasing number of reports of suspected drug-peddlers, pushers and others about whom reports of criminal activity have been received, who have been shot, supposedly because they resist arrest.”
Although President Duterte has stated that addicts are “no longer viable as human beings on this planet,” the bishops emphasised the dignity of every person, saying “God never gave up on us. We have no right giving up on ourselves or on our brothers and sisters.”
The bishops also urged law enforcement officials to carry out true justice, in response to a speech aired on television by the Philippines’ police chief, Ronald dela Rosa,in which he encouraged people, especially former addicts, to kill drug dealers: ”They’re all enjoying your money, money that destroyed your brain. You know who the drug lords are. Would you like to kill them? Go ahead. Killing them is allowed because you are the victims …. Why don’t you give them a visit, pour gasoline on their homes and set these on fire to register your anger?”
The bishops’ statement offered guidelines for police to follow. First, they said that killing in self-defense is a legitimate and morally permissible action. However, they denounced killing on the grounds of suspicion, saying that “suspicion is never the moral equivalent of certainty,” and could not be morally justified:
“Let no one ever raise his hand against his brother or sister, from the blood that is shed – even if it be the blood of one we suspect of crime – cries to heaven for justice!”
“To kill a suspect outright, no matter how much surveillance work may have antecedently been done on the suspect, is not morally justified.”
In his election campaign speech President Duterte encouraged citizens to kill suspected drugs dealers and offered large cash rewards to people who turn in drug dealers – ‘dead or alive’. The bishops also emphasised that that receiving monetary gain for killing, in the case of some vigilantes allegedly hired by police, is always wrong and should immediately stop.
They urged citizens to report unlawful killing and vigilante activity saying
“It is equally disturbing that vigilantism seems to be on the rise….It is the moral duty of every Catholic, every Christian, in fact, to report all forms of vigilantism of which they have personal knowledge.”
Although the bishops condemned the acts of violence committed against drug dealers in the Philippines, they highlighted their hopes that criminal activity would end and voiced their support of true justice at the hands of law enforcement.
“We understand the difficulties that law-enforcers face, the daily risk to life and limb, but not only civil society but also the Church counts on them for the flourishing of society,” the bishops said.
“Members of the community – Christians especially – should not be too quick to point accusing fingers at law enforcers, prosecutors and judges,” they continued.
The bishops were hopeful that harmony between citizens and government could be restored, and urged those in power to use their influential positions for good.
“We beg our prosecutors and judges to remain firm in their consecration to justice, for there can be no greater insult to the Creator than to use the gifts of intelligence, discernment and one’s success at legal studies for ends contrary to building the Body of Christ.”
President Duterte sent out an unambiguous warning to drug dealers: “Do not destroy my country, because I will kill you.” His merciless campaign is due to the proliferation of the drug crystal meth or “shabu” as it is known in the Philippines which has affected the lives of millions. Cheap, easily made, and intensely addictive, it offers an instant escape from the filth and drudgery of life in the slums. The drugs trade is very profitable – industrial-scale labs in the Philippines produce tons of the drug which is then distributed throughout Asia. The President has listed 150 senior officials, officers and judges linked to drugs but it is those at the lowest levels of the trade who are being targeted by the death squads.