Philippines drug campaign condemned by senior Catholics

The head of the Philippines Catholic Church has criticised the government’s bloody campaign against drugs.

Manila Cardinal Luis Tagle condemned “those who kill even the helpless”.

Police say that since President Rodrigo Duterte launched a campaign against drug dealers 14 months ago, 3,500 people have been killed.

But rights groups say the number is much higher, and that many of those targeted are innocent. One high-profile case this week spurred new criticism.

Reuters reported that at least 90 people were shot dead this week, with 32 killed in one day alone in Bulacan province, north of the capital Manila.

One of those who died was a 17-year-old boy, Kian Delos Santos. Police said he was killed on Tuesday after shooting at them first in Caloocan City.

However, security camera footage later emerged showing him being dragged away by two officers, raising serious questions about the circumstances of the shooting.

On Sunday, as anger over the teenager’s death grew, Cardinal Tagle issued a statement read out in Masses across the capital.

“We knock on the consciences of those who kill even the helpless, especially those who cover their faces, to stop wasting human lives.

“The illegal drug problem should not be reduced to a political or criminal issue. It is a humanitarian concern that affects all of us.”

He was supported by another senior cleric, Archbishop Socrates Villegas, who called on churches to ring their bells at 20:00 every day to show solidarity.

“The sound of the bells is a wake-up call for a nation that no longer knows how to condole with the bereaved,” and that was too “cowardly” to condemn the violence, he said.

The Church initially veered away from criticism of President Duterte’s campaign, but last year began calling for an end to the violence.

In response, the President lambasted senior Church officials. He has not officially responded to the Cardinal’s plea on Sunday.

In Manila on Sunday, mourners gathered for the funeral of Leover Miranda, who was shot dead on 3 August.

They insist he was not involved in the drug trade, but was nevertheless killed. His relatives wore T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan: “Kill drugs, not people”.

“This is not the right answer,” his mother Peregrine Santos said. “They can put him jail, why did they have to kill? That’s my question to our president now.”

Rights groups have accused Philippine police of planning extrajudicial killingsand in some cases profiting from them.

Police have maintained that the suspects are killed when they offer armed resistance to police, a claim that has been highly disputed.

Mr Duterte suspended the campaign in January promising to “clean up” the police, and re-organise the anti-drug units. The campaign resumed in March. (Courtesy BBC)


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