Filipino police seek church protection over drug killings

Undisclosed number of officers willing to disclose information on deaths fear for their lives
Filipino police seek church protection over drug killings

Catholic nuns join a protest in Manila in August to demand justice for victims of drug-related killings in the country. (Photo by Vincent Go)


Philippine policemen wanting to reveal information about President Rodrigo Duterte's deadly drug war have sought protection from the church out of fear for their safety.

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan said the "sanctuary seekers" are willing to tell the truth because "their consciences are troubling them."

"They have expressed their desire to come out in the open about their participation in extrajudicial killings and summary executions," the prelate said in a statement on Oct. 2.

The archbishop declined to say how many policemen were prepared to come forward, or if they included two policemen who earlier testified before a Senate hearing on the drug war.

He said convents and seminaries in his archdiocese could serve as places of refuge for witnesses and their families after an assessment of the accuracy of their testimonies.

"We will look prudently into the sincerity of their motives and the veracity of their stories," said Archbishop Villegas.

In Kalookan Diocese, several witnesses to the killing of a 17-year-old student in July have sought protection from the church.

"If their preference is to stay with us in the church, [the witnesses] will not be turned over to the state," said Archbishop Villegas. "Let us be guardian angels for one another," he said.

The prelate, who is president of the bishops' conference, has supported two self-confessed assassins who linked Duterte to the killings of suspected drug users.  

Duterte, whose deadly crackdown on illegal drugs has defined his presidency, strongly denied ordering the killings.

Dioceses around the country have issued pastoral statements urging Catholics to work together and demand an end to the killings.

In Legazpi Diocese, Bishop Joel Baylon lamented how previous appeals to end the "drug-war carnage and bring the killers to justice had fallen on deaf ears and stony hearts."

He said that while the church supports the government's campaign against criminality, the people must "speak out and mobilize" when human rights are trampled upon and the rule of law set aside.

The Philippine National Police claimed that at least 3,811 people who supposedly resisted arrest were killed in anti-drug operations from July 2016 to August this year.

Human rights groups, however, said more than 10,000 suspected drug users and dealers have fallen victim to vigilante-style killings since last year.

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