CARDINAL Luis Antonio Tagle on Saturday called for a culture of “active non-violence” and admonished the government not to resort to killings in fighting crime and illegal drugs, as thousands of faithful Filipinos marched at Luneta in “defense of human life.”
“Lakas, hindi dahas (Strength, not violence),” the Manila archbishop boomed as he mustered his inner Cardinal Sin, his predecessor who played pivotal roles in the 1986 Edsa “People Power” revolt that toppled the Marcos regime and the 2001 uprising that ousted Joseph Estrada.
Echoing Martin Luther King, Tagle told the crowd that “violence will not be overcome by violence.”
“If violence is also met with violence, we double the violence. We should not double or spread violence. It should be matched by non-violence,” the prelate said in Filipino.
An estimated 20,000 people joined the “Walk for Life” march and prayer rally at dawn on Saturday in Luneta (Rizal Park) organized by Catholic organizations led by the Council of the Laity of the Philippines.
Lay and religious people marched on the parade grounds of Quirino Grandstand carrying banners protesting summary killings linked to President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-drug war.
Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas said the “walk” was held at dawn as it was “during this time when victims are found along the road or in garbage heaps.”
“Dawn is that time of day that augurs well with new beginnings but has turned into a time of tears and fear due to killings made the night before,” said the Sin protégé who now heads the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.
Addressing critics who have derided the Church for taking the side of drug suspects rather than their victims, Villegas said: “This Walk for Life is not to defend the drug addicts or the killers. Criminals ought to be arrested, prosecuted, sentenced and jailed to correct the wrongdoings they committed. They ought to be judged by the court of law and never by the barrel of the gun.”
Villegas also spoke out against the death penalty bill pending in Congress.
“It was during this time of day on December 30, 1896 when Dr. Jose Rizal walked from Fort Santiago to the Luneta to face the firing squad. Death penalty is contrary to the sacredness of human life. Instead of restoring the death penalty, cleanse the ranks of the police, reform the judiciary and strictly enforce rules in our penitentiaries,” he said.
“We say ‘No to Death penalty!’ Yes, to the reforms in the criminal justice system. We call on the House of Representatives to allow their members to vote according to their conscience. Partisan politics is fleeting. Conscience is the voice of God inside everyone of us. Respect our conscience.”
De Lima in attendance
Villegas this month issued the Church’s strongest statement against the drug war, warning against a “reign of terror” in poor communities.
Among those who attended the event was Sen. Leila de Lima, a former human rights commissioner and one of Duterte’s most vocal opponents.
The government on Friday filed charges against her for allegedly running a drug trafficking ring using criminals in the country’s largest prison when she was justice secretary in the previous administration.
De Lima, who has repeatedly insisted the charges against her are trumped up to silence her and intimidate other Duterte critics, said she attended Saturday’s event as a show of solidarity.
“For as long as I can, I will continue to fight. They cannot silence me,” de Lima, who is expecting to be arrested in the coming days, told AFP.
Bone cancer survivor Lucy Castillo, 56, turned up in a wheelchair along with dozens of other people with disabilities.
“When I was in so much pain, I could have taken my life but I did not. Only God can take it,” she told AFP.
“I was diagnosed 40 years ago but I was given a chance to live. I want to give these drug addicts another chance.”
Duterte, 71, has attacked the Church as being “full of shit” and “the most hypocritical institution” for speaking out against a campaign that he says would save generations of Filipinos from the drug menace.
About eight in 10 Filipinos are Catholic, making the former Spanish colony of more than 100 million people Asia’s bastion of Christianity.
It had initially declined to voice opposition publicly to Duterte’s drug war but, as the death toll of mostly poor people mounted, it began late last year to call for the killings to end.