Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo of Manila leads a candle-lighting ceremony to show opposition to the spate of killings of suspected drug users. (Photo by Vincent Go)
A leading Catholic bishop in the Philippines has called on the government to go after the killers of suspected users and peddlers of illegal drugs.
"The government should hunt down these killers who are inspired by the government itself to put the law in their own hands," said Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo of Manila.
Police and human rights groups estimate some 1,000 suspected drug users and pushers have been killed since Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte launched his anti-illegal drugs drive in June.
Bishop Pabillo said the president's pronouncements "authorized rogue assailants or vigilante groups to liquidate alleged criminals and drug users."
In a nationally televised address in June, Duterte offered rewards of up to $108,000 to anybody who killed a "drug lord."
"I will pay for a drug lord 5 million [pesos], if he is dead. If he is alive, only 4.99 million [pesos]," said the president.
Bishop Pabillo said the president's statement allowed vigilantes to decide who to kill.
"This culture of killing must be stopped by the government that has the obligation to provide equal protection under the law to everyone, guilty or not guilty of a crime," said the prelate.
He said the authorities should "be alarmed and be ashamed" because killers are at large, "mocking our law enforcement system and our justice system."
In a statement on Aug. 16, the group called on the government to go after the killers.
It called for an independent investigation into the murders where "even mothers were killed in front of their children in public."
"This is a crime," read the group's statement, adding that some "bad elements" might have taken advantage of the situation and gone on a rampage killing civilians allegedly involved in drugs.
Bishop Pabillo said alleged drug offenders are also humans "who have the right to due process of law."
"Only a court has the right to determine if a person is guilty or not guilty of a crime and decide on the punishment," he said.