Tue, Oct 11, 2016 - Page 4 News List

Church divided, subdued over Philippine drug war

FORSAKEN:Having lost the political clout they once had and increasingly at odds with public opinion, some priests hide drug pushers who would otherwise be summarily shot

Reuters, MANILA

Catholic devotees light candles after attending Mass at the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Paranaque, Metro Manila, the Philippines, on Sept. 18.

Photo: Reuters

Catholic priests from the Philippine church, an institution that helped oust two of the country’s leaders in the past, say they are afraid and unsure how to speak out against the war on drugs unleashed by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

More than a dozen clergymen in Asia’s biggest Catholic nation said they were uncertain how to take a stand against the thousands of killings in a war that has such overwhelming popular support.

Challenging the president’s campaign could be fraught with danger, some said.

Duterte, who had a 76 percent satisfaction rating in a survey released last week, has quashed opposition to his war on drugs. More than 3,600 people, mostly small-time drug users and dealers, have died at the hands of police and suspected vigilantes since he took power on June 30.

In another poll conducted by the same agency, the Social Weather Stations, 84 percent of respondents said they were satisfied or somewhat satisfied with the war on drugs, although a majority said they had qualms about the killings.


Opposing the drug war “in some locations becomes a dangerous job,” said Father Luciano Felloni, a priest in a northern district of the capital, Manila.

At least 30 people, including a child and a pregnant woman, have been killed in his barangay, or neighborhood, where he is setting up community-based rehabilitation for drug users.

“There is a lot of fear, because the way people have been killed is vigilante-style so anyone could become a target... There is no way of protecting yourself,” he said.

Another priest, who, like several others, asked for anonymity because of possible reprisals, said it was risky to question the killings openly.

Dozens of drug addicts and pushers are being killed every day, but anyone who criticizes Duterte’s campaign could suffer a similar fate, he said.

Philippine presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the church was free to make statements and there was no cause “to even imply” that anyone in the clergy would be targeted.

However, Abella added: “The church needs to consider that recent surveys show the people trust and appreciate the president’s efforts and it would do well to take heed and not presume that the people share their belief system. We expect them to be reasonable and considered.”


Some priests have supported Duterte’s campaign.

“Are the means unnecessarily illegitimate?” said Father Joel Tabora, a Jesuit priest in Davao, where Duterte was mayor for 22 years, and where about 1,400 people were killed from 1998 until the end of last year in a similar anti-crime and anti-drug campaign, according to activists.

“People are dying, yes, but on the other hand, millions of people are being helped,” Tabora said.

Three decades ago, the church in the Philippines championed a “People Power” revolution that reverberated around the world and ousted former Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos. It also participated in a popular movement in 2001 that led to the impeachment and removal of another Philippine president, Joseph Estrada.


For the Vatican, the Philippines is a key eastern hub: It has the third-largest population of Catholics globally and accounts for more than half of Asia’s about 148 million Catholics.

About 80 percent of the 100 million people in the Philippines are Catholic and, unlike in many other countries where the faith was once strong, the vast majority still practice with enthusiasm.

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