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Bishops issue strongest statement vs Duterte's drug war

CBCP president Archbishop Socrates Villegas issued a statement condemning the killings of drug suspects especially teenagers. CBCP/File

'In the name of God, stop the killings!'

MANILA, Philippines — Local Catholic bishops issued on Tuesday their strongest statement to date against President Rodrigo Duterte.

The bishops slammed and urged for a stop to the continuing killing of drug suspects, especially teenagers, in a statement released by Socrates Villegas, the archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan and the president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines. This comes weeks after a string of suspected police killings of teenagers which jolted the nation.

The bishops were "appalled" by the "remorseless" killings of suspected drug criminals including young suspects.

"In the name of God, stop the killings! May the justice of God come upon those responsible for the killings!" Villegas said. "For the good of the country, stop the killings! The toll of 'murders under investigation' must stop now."

The statement condemning the violence that attends the brutal war on drugs is sure to anger the irascible Duterte, who in the past minced no words to blast bishops.

The killings in the wake of a campaign that has shown no signs of let-up have impelled the bishops to call for the stop of the deaths and violence and justice for the victims.

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The bishops, however, are careful to emphasize that it is not meant to offend anyone especially the president whose mouth froths with invectives when criticized.

"We are angry at none but the indifference amongst us," he said.

READ: Palace sees 'more dialogue, cooperation' with incoming CBCP head

A 'bleeding nation'

Last month, the spate of killings of three teenagers spawned a level of outrage never before seen during the presidency of Duterte, who still remains massively popular among Filipinos.

The killings of Kian Loyd Delos Santos, 17, Carl Arnaiz, 19 and Reynaldo De Guzman, 14, all occurred within days of one another and shocked a nation that generally acquiesced to the brutality of the government's anti-narcotics campaign.

Villegas said of them: "They were young boys, enjoying life, loving sons of parents who doted on them. Now an entire nation knows them by name because their lives have been snuffed out so cruelly, their dreams and aspirations forever consigned to the sad realm of 'what could have been but never will be.'"

The Philippines must be angry for its guilt for its silence, inaction, diffidence and hesitation over the killings, according the CBCP president, as he urged its leaders to start the healing of the "bleeding nation."

"The healing must begin. Malasakit must be restored. Pakikiramay must be active. Pakikipag kapwa tao must be gained back. The rule of law must prevail," Villegas said.

On silent Catholics

Villegas also chided Christians especially Catholics for being quiet in the face of the "shocking attacks against human life," saying they could not be faithful members of the Church by being mum on the deaths.

He said, "The Church must either be at the forefront of the intense and fervent struggle against a culture of death or the Church betrays Christ."

This is not the first time that the bishops have spoken against the killings.

Just recently, Luis Antonio Tagle, the cardinal of Manila, and Villegas condemned the violence and appealed to the conscience of Catholic Filipinos, who comprise more than 80 percent of the population.

In November last year, they also renewed their call for authorities to halt the killings in the wake of the president's drug war.

Criticisms like this from the Catholic Church are something that Duterte does not relish.

He blasted priests in the past for their inaction on the country's drug problem and for their supposed "hypocrisy."

Villegas urged Catholics to offer their prayers for a period of 40 days from September 23 to November 1 for those killed in the drug war and victims of the violence and war in Marawi City, where the military is still struggling to rid the town of Islamist-inspired militants after more than 100 days of ground assault and aerial bombardment.

Subject to the approval of local bishops, churches should also peal their bells as a sign of remembrance, according to Villegas.

Candles can also be lighted for the dead, and contributions to support the victims' family can also be made, he said.

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