Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines. (Photo by Roy Lagarde)
A leading Catholic bishop has urged the public to speak out against the spate of drug-related killings in the country even as he described the trafficking of narcotics as murder.
"Narcotics kill dreams and hopes, drugs ruin lives and families, drugs destroy society and nations," said Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan in a pastoral letter on Sept. 4.
The prelate, however, said that while society must be protected from drug dealers, killing offenders is not the way to fight criminality.
"We can fight criminality without killing the offenders. Who are we to judge that this offender is hopeless?" said Archbishop Villegas, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.
"Death ends all possibilities to change," he said. "The goal of justice is not revenge. The goal of justice is restoration of harmony."
It was the second time that the prelate has spoken out on the issue of killing suspected drug addicts and peddlers.
On Aug. 5, Villegas appealed to the people’s sense of humanity amid the killings. "In our dream to wipe out drug addiction are we not becoming a 'killing fields' nation?" he said.
The Philippine National Police puts the number of people killed since President Rodrigo Duterte was elected in May at 1,900.
During his campaign for the presidency, Duterte vowed to stop the illegal drugs trade in the first six months of his term, warning that his administration will be a "bloody" one.
In his pastoral letter, Archbishop Villegas challenged Catholics not to "stay seated in comfort keeping quiet."
"At the sunset of life, the blood that has spilled all over our sidewalks and streets will judge us because when we could do something, we chose to be keep quiet," the prelate said.
"There is no peace for cowards. The next life to be snuffed out could be yours," he added.
In his Sept. 4 pastoral letter, Archbishop Villegas noted that in the government's pursuit of criminals, innocent lives have become victims.
"Our hearts grieve for the innocent murdered ones. Guns do not make mistakes. Trigger happy vigilantes do," said Archbishop Villegas.
"With the best of intentions or not, [those behind the killings] have violated the Fifth Commandment and their brother’s blood cries out from the bloodied soil," he said.
The archbishop's message was read in all churches in his archdiocese in lieu of the Sunday homily.