A Philippine bishop likened a northern Manila suburb to Cambodia's "killing fields" Aug. 23 as he encouraged grieving families to file cases against abusive police implementing President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs.
Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Caloocan's latest denunciation of the bloody campaign came as Duterte's aides tried to defuse a public outcry over the Aug. 16 killing — caught on camera — of 17-year-old student Kian de los Santos in a community in Bishop David's diocese.
At a press conference, Bishop David said the killing of de los Santos was not an isolated case, contrary to the government's claim.
The bishop said he has heard from many families of people who died because they allegedly resisted arrest. Many witnesses have also seen police shoot people begging for their lives, he added.
Bishop David also questioned the lack of official response to roaming teams of killers in black clothing.
The bishop hinted at tacit government approval of vigilante groups.
"They roam our streets, especially in the informal settler communities, every night," Bishop David said. "And I don't know why they are invisible."
There has been little official action on what police call "deaths under investigation," which make up two-thirds of the 12,000 killings related to drugs in the past year.
Duterte on Aug. 22 said he would not attend De los Santos' wake because he did not want to judge police involved until after a Justice Department probe.
He said Aug. 21 that any police found guilty by the courts would be jailed and not granted a presidential pardon he often promises for those implementing his drug war.
On Aug. 23, representatives of foreign governments called for an impartial probe into the killing.
Forensic experts from the public attorney's office have said De los Santos was shot three times, twice in the head, while he lay prone on the ground.
Police suspects have also admitted they were holding De los Santos as per the footage caught by village street cameras.
Even Duterte's popular ally, boxer and pro-death penalty senator, Manny Pacquiao, condemned the "excessive and unnecessary deaths" in the year-old campaign.
National defense chief Delfin Lorenza urged Filipinos to stay calm as he criticized the conduct of the police who killed De los Santos in Caloocan City.
"Whether or not he was involved in the use or trafficking of illegal drugs, he did not deserve to die in the manner that he did," Lorenzana said in a statement.
National police chief Ronald de la Rosa has removed the police district commander who earlier claimed the video showed another suspect.
Despite the outcry, Duterte vowed to step up his anti-drug campaign and challenged his critics.
Military spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla downplayed a statement by an anonymous group called Patriotic and Democratic Movement (PADEM), which urged soldiers and police to oppose Duterte.
"The entire [military] along with all the men and women of the uniformed services and all our civilian personnel stand by the constitutionally mandated government and unequivocally supports the commander-in-chief," Padilla said.
The PADEM statement accused Duterte of treating the security services as private armies, inciting police to engage in extra-judicial killings and having family and friends among top drug lords.