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Philippines

Church accused of 'simplifying' Philippine drug problem

Conference on illegal drugs draws conflicting views between churchman and UN special rapporteur

Joe Torres, Manila

Joe Torres, Manila

Published: May 08, 2017 08:33 AM GMT
Church accused of 'simplifying' Philippine drug problem

Agnes Callamard, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary executions, says war on drugs "does not work" in many countries. (Photo by Vincent Go)

Philippine church leaders vocal in their criticism against the government's war against narcotics, need to understand the problem and go beyond a simplistic view of the issue, according to a leading human rights lawyer.

Maria Socorro Diokno of the human rights lawyers' organization Free Legal Assistance Group said they are "not doing enough" to address the problem. 

She was speaking at an international meeting in Manila last week to look into "different perspectives" on the illegal drugs issue.

"The church needs to understand because they may be looking at it simplistically," Diokno told ucanews.com in an interview on the sidelines of the conference.

Many well-meaning church people "don't distinguish between the user, the abuser, or an addict or a dependent," she said.

"For them everybody is one and the same," said the lawyer. "It's not true, it's not correct, so I think the church has to learn more in order to engage and dialogue more."

Father Luciano Felloni, an Argentinian priest working in an urban poor community in Manila, said the church needs to work with the government to "heal" drug addicts.

He said building big rehabilitation centers or holding protests against the government's drug war will not help solve the drug problem.

"Fighting the government will lead us nowhere. We will suffer a lot if we fight with the government, we will benefit a lot if we work with the government," said Father Felloni.

He said "the solution on drugs cannot come from intellectual debate," adding that "too many people [are] talking about drugs without even knowing the name or face of the drug addict."

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"And that's where our conversation [shoots] up to the academic level without considering the reality on the ground. Visit the people," said the priest.

His statement drew strong reactions from the audience, including Agnes Callamard, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions.

"I think you have a very narrow understanding of academic work," Callamard told Father Felloni. 

"[Academics] go to the ground, they speak with people, they live with the people," said the U.N. rapporteur. 

"I don't know where you're coming from to think that academic work is done somewhere in an ivory tower. That's not the case," Callamard told the priest.

Father Felloni said he was "happy" his statement "produced a reaction," adding that "we will never fully agree on all the points."

"My impression from the ground is that drugs are really a big problem in the Philippines and therefore have to be removed," said the priest.

The presence of Callamard, a vocal critic of the drug-related killings in the country, caught international attention. 

She turned down a government invitation to visit the Philippines in September last year.

Without mentioning the Philippines, Callamard said, "badly thought out, ill-conceived drug policies fail to address substantively drug dependency, drug-related criminality, and the drug trade."

She said "wars on drugs do not work," adding that there are better options to address the issue, including goodwill of all stakeholders for the crafting of a drug policy that upholds the rights of people.

In a statement, the Philippine government expressed disappointment at Callamard's presence.

"[It] has sent a clear signal that she is not interested in getting an objective perspective on the issues that are the focus of her responsibility," read a statement from the presidential palace.

Speaking to ucanews.com, Callamard said that her visit last week was for "purely academic reasons."

"I am not here on an official visit. I am here in response to an invitation to participate to an academic conference," she said.

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