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Senior Philippine clerics oppose Duterte's move to extend anti-crime campaign another six months
Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, president of the Philippine bishops' conference, leads the launch of a prayer campaign "A Million Roses for the World" to show solidarity with the celebration of Pope Francis' "Day of Prayer for Peace" in Assisi on Sept. 20. (Photo by Angie de Silva)
A leading bishop has called on Filipino Catholics to help families of victims of drug-related killings in the country "because they need a lot of mercy and compassion."
"The killings have a face, do not just look at the suspected killers," said Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the bishops' conference.
The prelate led the launching on Sept. 20 of a prayer campaign "A Million Roses for the World" to show solidarity with the celebration of Pope Francis' "Day of Prayer for Peace" in Assisi.
"We pray for the dead, we pray for the living, we pray for everybody," said Archbishop Villegas when asked if he would be calling for prayers even for those behind the spate of killings in the country.
At least 3,000 suspected drug pushers and users have been killed since the Philippine government launched an all-out campaign against illegal drugs on July 1.
The prelate said the "most important contribution of the church for social change" is prayer. "We cannot underestimate the power of prayer for changing people, for changing the world," he said.
"Even if prayer looks very impractical or prayer looks like it has no connection to the present situation, believe me, prayer can change hearts and prayer can change everybody," said Archbishop Villegas.
He warned, however, not "to lose the opportunity to condole and console those who are crying" by focusing on the suspected killers.
"The most important thing to do is to reach out to those families grieving ... and assure them that God is with us," said Archbishop Villegas, prelate of Lingayen-Dagupan Archdiocese.
He said Filipino Catholics cannot isolate the situation in the Philippines from their spiritual life.
Students from Manila Catholic schools pray the rosary at the launch of a prayer campaign "A Million Roses for the World" to show solidarity with the celebration of Pope Francis' "Day of Prayer for Peace" in Assisi on Sept. 20. (Photo by Angie de Silva)
Anti-drug campaign 'not effective'
Other Catholic Church leaders on Sept. 20 warned Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte against extending his campaign against crime and narcotics for another six months.
"[The president] categorically said the drug problem will be solved in six months or he will step down, but of course he is not a man of ones word," said Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo of Manila.
"His words cannot be trusted and he gives a lot of excuses," said the prelate, adding that Duterte should have not made the campaign promise.
During the election campaign, Duterte vowed to eradicate criminality and illegal drugs within six months.
However, he announced this week that he needs another six months to address the problem.
"He made the people believe," said Bishop Pabillo. He said the failure of the Duterte government to end the problem showed that its methods are not effective.
Instead of killings, "rehabilitation and a stronger anti-poverty programs" are "more effective," he said.
"[Duterte] should also root out corruption in the police and government," said the bishop.
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