An ecumenical church group at the forefront of seeking justice for victims of drug-related killings in the Philippine capital has declared it will extend its work to other parts of the country.
Rise Up for Life and for Rights, a Manila-based group announced that it is planning to organize activities in Cebu province.
"We want to show that the impact of the war on drugs has a nationwide effect," said Nardy Sabino, convenor for the group. "The killings are systematic," he said.
Philippine authorities admitted last month that the reported deaths of about 5,500 suspected drug users and dealers during police drug operations was far too high.
Human rights groups, however, put the death toll much higher at 27,000 deaths since President Rodrigo Duterte
declared a "war against drugs" when he took power in 2016.
The so-called war faces new scrutiny as the United Nations Human Rights Council
has adopted a resolution to investigate the killings.
Sabino said the police’s claim that suspects fight back during arrests also happens in other parts of the country.
"What’s happening in Metro Manila was also happening in [the provinces of] Cebu, Bulacan, Leyte, Tacloban, and other places," he said.
Sabino, however, said the failure of church institutions to reach out to a wider public has become a setback in the campaign to organize families of victims outside of Manila.
"Battling the government’s propaganda was another difficulty," he said. "The public really believe that those killed were misfits, while the families
suffer from emotional distress, fear, and trauma."
"We want to help families seek justice. We want them to know that we are here to listen. We are one with them. We are here to fight with them and for them," said Sabino.
"We also want families to know that what happened to them should not have happened in the first place. And we want to empower them so that they too can become human rights defenders someday," he added.
A network of church and faith-based groups formed Rise Up in July 2016 when the killings started.
Sabino said condemnation was initially made through statements and speeches delivered during Masses "but it was not enough because the killings continued."
Rise Up has since filed cases against policemen
involved in arrests that resulted in deaths. It also filed a complaint against Duterte before the International Criminal Court.