IN its strongest statement against the government’s bloody anti-drug war, the 133-member Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) took to task as well members of their flock who have fallen silent amid the killings and rampant drug abuse.
“To consent and to keep silent in front of evil is to be an accomplice to it. 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,” said the CBCP in a pastoral letter read in all churches on Saturday and Sunday.
Church leaders expressed alarm over the Catholic faithful’s seeming lack of concern over the mounting numbers of drug suspects killed, either in police operations or by alleged vigilante.
The CBCP said the number of deaths, the situation of the families of those killed and the “reign of terror” against poor victims were all causes of concern, but most alarming was the deafening silence of the people on the killings.
“An even greater cause of concern is the indifference of many to this kind of wrong. It is considered as normal, and, even worse, something that (according to them) needs to be done,” the bishops said in the pastoral letter, signed by CBCP President and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas.
CBCP ‘out of touch’
Reacting to the CBCP statement, President Rodrigo Duterte, in Cagayan de Oro City, asked Catholics to make a choice.
“You Catholics, if you believe the priests and the bishops, go with them. If you want to go to heaven, go with them. If you want to end the drug menace and go to hell, stand with me,” he told reporters in Filipino.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the bishops were out of touch with the citizens and should instead catechize their flock.
“The officials of the CBCP are apparently out of touch with the sentiments of the faithful who overwhelmingly support the changes in the country, including the country being a safer place for families, working people and young workers who work on night shift. That is far from the terror that the bishops paint,” Abella said in a statement.
“The efforts of these Church leaders might be put to better use in practical catechetics that build strong moral character among the faithful, and so contribute more to the reign of peace felt by ordinary citizens everywhere, especially those who are innocent of illegal activities,” he added.
President Duterte last week ordered the Philippine National Police (PNP) to abolish all its anti-illegal drug units following the kidnap-slay of Korean businessman Jee Ick Joo, who was abducted in his home in Angeles City on Oct. 18, 2016 and killed inside the PNP headquarters in Camp Crame on the same day.
Even without the police, Duterte said that his anti-illegal drugs campaign would continue up to the end of his term in 2022. All anti-drug operations are being handled by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, while an internal cleansing is being done in the ranks of the PNP.
The Church, the CBCP said, would continue to speak against evil even as “we acknowledge and repent our own shortcomings.”
Every person has a right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, and such process must be followed, especially by agents of the law, the CBCP said.
“We cannot correct a wrong by doing another wrong. 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,” the prelates said.
They also expressed belief that the root causes of the drug problem and criminality are widespread poverty, broken families and corruption in society.
“The step we have to take is to overcome poverty, especially through the giving of permanent work and sufficient wages to workers. Let us strengthen and carry forward the unity and love of the family members,” the pastoral letter added.
Priority must be given to reforming rogue policemen and corrupt judges, and also for elected government officials to serve the common good, the CBCP said.
Church leaders vowed to continue efforts to help the poor, like livelihood, education and health programs.
“We will help drug addicts so that they may be healed and start a new life. We will stand in solidarity and care for those left behind by those who have been killed and for the victims of drug addicts. Let us renew our efforts to strengthen families,” the CBCP said.
LLANESCA T. PANTI