A family of a slain drug user visits the grave of their loved one in Manila. (Photo by Vincent Go)
A leading Catholic bishop in the Philippines has called on his fellow prelates to be more vocal and united in speaking against the killings of suspected drug users and dealers.
"I appeal to our bishops, let us speak collectively," said former Bishop Teodoro Bacani of Novaliches, adding that church leaders seem not to be speaking as one on the issue.
"We have to speak loudly and in a united way against [the killings]," said Bishop Bacani.
The prelate clarified that he supports the government's campaign against illegal drugs as long as it does not trample on morality and the sanctity of human life.
A newly-formed network of organizations critical of the government's anti-illegal drugs campaign said families of victims should also "break the culture of silence" and press the government to put an end to the killings.
Carmelite Father Gilbert Billena, spokesman of the group Rise Up, said families "must come up and file their affidavits" in court.
He said that most families, especially those in urban poor communities, prefer to keep their silence "because of fear and trauma."
"They choose not to seek justice for the unjust deaths of their love ones because they know the government will not support them," said Father Billena.
The priest said the killings of drug users and small-time dealers are killing the demand for illegal drugs but not the supply of it.
"The supply will just look for new markets. The cycle will not stop," he said.
Nardy Sabino of the Promotion of Church People’s Response said even though the Christian wing of the National Democracy Movement supports the government’s war on illegal drugs it condemns the killings.
He said the war on drugs has "brought an alarming trend of killings in the country."
Sabino said fighting the proliferation of illegal drugs "should not be developed as detrimental to the fullness of lives of individuals, families, neighborhoods, and society-at-large."
In a statement, the church group urged the public to expose "the great danger of extra-judicial killings and so-called vigilante justice in the name of war on drugs and the prevailing culture of impunity."
Father Billena also appealed to the public to assist in sending drug offenders to rehabilitation programs.
"Rather than seeing them only as criminals deserving retribution, the correct response is to create economic opportunities for them," he said.
Father Billena's group plans education campaigns in churches, institutions, ecumenical formations, and urban poor communities "to elucidate a human rights framework for understanding appropriate actions that can contribute to the eradication of illegal drugs."
"We can help the government on the war on drugs without wholesale sacrifice of the human rights of those affected by drug addiction," said the priest.
Almost 5,000 drug-related deaths have been recorded in the first three months of the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte who has declared an all-out war against narcotics.