Cardinal Tagle offers to broker talks amid student killing outcry

Anger mounts after witnesses dispute police account of teen's death in Philippine drug war
Cardinal Tagle offers to broker talks amid student killing outcry

The body of an alleged drug dealer killed during a police anti-drug operation is seen on the ground in Manila on Aug. 18. (Photo by Noel Celis/AFP)

Published Aug. 21, 2017 

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila has stepped into a national political storm, spawned by the killing of a student in one of the bloodiest weeks of President Rodrigo Duterte's drug war, with an offer to broker a national dialogue.

Cardinal Tagle and other senior clergy appealed for an end to the killings as legislators announced a probe into the death of 17-year-old Kian de los Santos, a student of a Catholic school and son of an overseas worker, in Manila's Caloocan City.

Police claimed de los Santos was armed and killed in a shootout. Witnesses, however, said police nabbed de los Santos on Aug. 16 as he was closing a small family store, dragged him through alleys and told him to run before shooting him.

Dioceses are responding to what Catholic Church leaders now acknowledge as a crisis with actions ranging from daily evening ringing of bells and prayers, and the setting up of mission stations to minister to primarily poor targets of the drug war.

"We knock on the consciences of those who kill even the helpless, especially those who cover their faces … to stop wasting human lives," Cardinal Tagle said in a letter read in all Masses in his archdiocese Sunday, Aug. 20. 

He warned that a year into Duterte's rule, which activists estimate has resulted in more than 12,000 deaths, people were being reduced to statistics. Some 40 of the dead were minors.

"To understand the situation better, we need not only statistics but also human stories. Families with members who have been destroyed by illegal drugs must tell their stories. Families with members who have been killed in the drug-war, especially the innocent ones, must be allowed to tell their stories. Drug addicts who have recovered must tell their stories of hope. Let their stories be told, let their human faces be revealed," said Cardinal Tagle.

The cardinal also warned that the menace of illegal drugs is real and should not be reduced to a political or criminal issue.

"We need one other. We cannot disregard each other," said Cardinal Tagle, who offered his diocese as facilitator of a national dialogue.

"Let us invite families, national government agencies, local government units, people's organizations, schools, faith-based communities, the medical profession, the police and military, recovering addicts ... to come together, listen to each other and chart a common path," he said.


Mission stations

The cardinal's offer followed  Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Caloocan's announcement of new mission stations in urban poor communities reeling from police operations, which saw more than 50 persons killed last week.

Bishop David said his diocese, which ministers to northern suburban cities with the most number of drug war fatalities, would work with religious congregations to rent homes and staff them with counselors and first responders. He also sought lawyer and para-legal volunteers to help survivors and families of the dead.

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In language much tougher than Cardinal Tagle's, the bishop invoked the country's history of strongman rule, as he demanded a halt to killings.

"During the time of the dictatorship, 'communist' was the convenient label and justification for abductions and killings," he said.

"Now it's 'drug suspects.' I don't know of any law in any civilized society that says a person deserves to die because he or she is a 'drug suspect,' he added.

Bishop David said the killings only prevent law enforcers from getting a clear picture of the complexities of the illegal drug trade.

He warned Filipinos who applaud the killings as proper punishment for suspects that their families could find themselves targets with no recourse to due process.

In Pangasinan Bishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen, ordered the pealing of church bells every 8 p.m., starting Aug. 22, for those killed in the drug war.

"The sound of bells is the voice of God that will hopefully awaken the conscience that has become numb and blind" to the rising death roll, Bishop Villegas said.

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