Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte is having a very successful campaign against suspected drug dealers and drug users. The killing of a 17-year old Grade 11 student, Kian Loyd delos Santos, by police in an anti-drug operation last week during which as many as 94 people were shot dead by police was just one too many. The police claim that all the dead, including the boy, resisted arrest and fought back. However, witnesses and CCTV footage of the incident show that the boy was dragged and shot dead.
Whatever the truth of it is, the evidence that these 94 people were all drug dealers and had resisted arrest is woefully lacking. Many in the Philippines are shocked at the news that as many as 31 minors have been shot dead during the past twelve months of the President’s war-on-drugs. The tough-talking and feared President strengthened his determination to pursue the war-on-drugs and said that it would continue relentlessly and warned drug pushers that they will face “either jail or hell." "Illegal drugs are the root cause of much evil and so much suffering that weaken the social fabric and deters foreign investment from pouring in," he said.
Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David spoke out against it and condemned the killing of Kian Loyd Delos Santos. "This is one very specific case where an innocent individual, who happens to be just a boy, a Grade 11 student, you snuff out the future of a child," David said in a phone interview with Rappler on Friday, August 18. "That really crushes my heart as bishop. I cannot possibly keep quiet about this," said David, the incoming vice president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). He is one of the most outspoken bishops against the extrajudicial killings (EJKs).
The targeting of children is not unusual. The authorities look down upon them. The move by the authorities to change the juvenile justice and welfare law and reduce the minimum age of criminal liability to nine years old is still pending in the congress. In a speech to the Boy Scouts, the President said children in conflict with the law have criminals minds.
Without evidence against the suspects, they are listed by local officials and are judged guilty and arrested, jailed or even executed. The President praised the big “success” of the operation. The rule of law and due process is ignored and for many Filipinos of conscience, it is extrajudicial killing. The police vigorously deny it. Some commentators say that as many as ten thousand suspects have died in the war on drugs killed by police and vigilantes.
The vigilantes, some say, are police in disguise and they are paid a bonus for every killing. This cannot be confirmed. The owners of the funeral parlors where the bodies are brought pay the police to bring them more bodies, some reports say. The families of the victims have to borrow heavily to pay for the expensive funeral. A report by Reuters last June 29 revealed that some police bring the dead bodies to hospitals as part of a cover up.
The amazing thing is that for a so-called Catholic country that is the Philippines, surveys say the tough talking president has approval ratings as high as 80 percent of those polled. Some say many Filipinos give approval in a survey out of fear. The president who apparently enjoys wide popularity said he would kill human rights advocates too to show them what human rights violations were. Later his communications officials said he didn’t mean it.
In the Archdiocese of Dagupan, Archbishop Socrates Villegas, former head of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, ordered that the church bells in his diocese be rung for 15 minutes every day for three months to protest the killings. This is needed, he said, to arouse the people who have become “cowards in expressing anger against evil.”
“The sounding of the bells is a call to stop approval of the killings,” Villegas said in a statement read last week in churches in his archdiocese in Pangasinan province. “The country is in chaos. The officer who kills is rewarded and the slain get the blame. The corpses could no longer defend themselves from accusations that they ‘fought back,’” he said. “Why are we no longer horrified by the sound of the gun and blood flowing on the sidewalks? Why is nobody raging against drugs that were brought in from China?” Villegas asked, referring to a huge drugs shipment that managed to pass through Manila’s ports under the watch of customs officials appointed by Duterte.
And so it is that the voices of the outspoken, vocal bishops are being heard. In Caloocan City, Bishop David organized walk for peace. In the Archdiocese of Manila, Archbishop Cardinal Tagle issued a pastoral letter that did not condemn the killings but said “We knock on the consciences of those who kill even the helpless, especially those who cover their faces with bonnets, to stop wasting human lives.”
This is a time for people of conscience to know and speak the truth, to be prophetic, to proclaim the value of every life, to stand for the truth, justice, human dignity, due process and the rule of law so that all people will be protected and safe from home invasion and the arbitrary killing of innocent people.
Rev. Shay Cullen is a co-founder of PREDA, a nonprofit dedicated to defending children.