Street Killings Spike in Philippines, Duterte Challenged by Bishops

Deploring a campaign of extrajudicial killings that has, according to local media, claimed more than 800 lives, the president of the Philippines bishops’ conference issued a direct challenge to President Rodrigo Duterte and his supporters in his Sunday homily on Aug. 7. “Will you kill me again and again on the social media for saying this?” asked Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan.

“At this point. I do not care. I am ready to die.… A part of me has died a hundred times in every killing I have seen these past weeks. What is another death for me?… Barbarism will not have the last laugh. Reason will prevail. Humanity will win in the end.”

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Describing himself in “utter disbelief” before the continuing police and vigilante violence against people suspected of drug peddling and other crimes, as well as the president’s professed indifference to human rights concerns, the archbishop wrote: “Both the guilty and the innocent are humans.… For the killer and the killed I grieve. We become less human when we kill our brethren.”

The homily was read from the pulpit throughout diocese on Aug. 7 and was published on the diocesan website. Archbishop Villegas asked his parishioners: "From a generation of drug addicts, shall we become a generation of street murderers?” Other bishops around the country similarly deplored the rise in extrajudicial street killings.

In a testimony to how quickly the human rights situation has deteriorated in the Philippines since Duterte came to power, the nation’s Catholic bishops’ conference began an antiviolence program in July called simply Do Not Kill. The campaign seeks to organize family members of the victims of extrajudicial executions and continues an appeal, first issued in June, to the nation’s police not to participate in or tolerate extrajudicial killings.

An implied shoot-to-kill policy toward drug dealers had propelled Duterte’s campaign for the presidency. As mayor of Davao City, where he was known as “The Punisher,” Duterte had similarly tolerated and even encouraged the summary executions of as many as 1,000 people suspected of committing drug crimes. Duterte so far has shown little concern that his tough-on-crime posture may prove too much for crime-weary Filipinos.

A day after the archbishop’s homily, in fact, Duterte announced the broadening of his antidrug trafficking crusade, releasing a list of government officials, judges, members of Congress and military officers he accuses of having links to the illegal drug trade. His televised address came just hours after he vowed to maintain his shoot-to-kill order against drug dealers.

In his address, Duterte declared that the officials he accused would have their day in court, but added while reading the list that "my mouth has no due process.” As mayor of Davao City, Duterte had similarly read out the names of drug suspects to local media; many of those he named were soon discovered slain.

In June the Bishops' Conference of the Philippines issued an official appeal to police, noting in a statement signed by conference president Archbishop Villegas, “We are disturbed by an increasing number of reports that suspected drug-peddlers, pushers and others about whom reports of criminal activity have been received, have been shot, supposedly because they resist arrest.” In their statement, “A Pastoral Appeal to Our Law Enforcers,” the bishops reminded police that killing a suspect is not “morally justifiable,” even if he tries to escape. The bishops issued an “appeal to humanity” in dealing with criminals and drug dealers.

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