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Filipino rights, church groups slam drug killing spree

At least 23 suspected dealers, users killed in week since Duterte assumed office

Joe Torres and Mark Saludes, Manila

Joe Torres and Mark Saludes, Manila

Published: July 05, 2016 10:39 AM GMT

Updated: July 05, 2016 10:43 AM GMT

Filipino rights, church groups slam drug killing spree

Policemen recover drugs and guns from slain members of a suspected drug syndicate in the suburbs of Quezon City in the Philippine capital Manila. (Photo by Robert Gines)


Human rights and church groups in the Philippines have expressed concern over a spate of killings of suspected drug dealers and addicts after President Rodrigo Duterte took office last week.

"It is alarming that these incidents happened after Duterte was elected president," said Father Robert Reyes, known as the "running priest" for his penchant to run for various causes.

At least 23 people have been reported killed since the new president, who vowed to kill drug traffickers and drug addicts, took office on June 30.

"The drug menace must stop," said human rights lawyer Edre Olalia of the National Union of People's Lawyers.

However, the "apparent serial summary executions of alleged drug users or petty drug lords, which appears too contrived and predictable, must also stop," he said.

"The cure may turn out to be worse than the illness," said Olalia, adding that there should be no shortcuts in the fight against crime.

Renato Reyes of the activist group New Patriotic Alliance has lauded Duterte's anti-crime and anti-drugs campaign, especially against police officials who protect criminal syndicates.

"We, however, express grave concern over the spate of extrajudicial killings of alleged drug dealers over the past few weeks," said Reyes.

Duterte spokesman Ernesto Abella said the new president was aware of the spate of killings, saying that it could be an indication of the "depth of the drug menace" in the country.

"I'm sure his ear is on the ground and he's listening," Abella told reporters July 4.

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Challenge to bishops

Father Reyes, meanwhile, urged the country's Catholic bishops not to keep silent but to continue their "role as a moral compass of society."

"If you keep quiet and you are talking seasonal and perhaps situational, or if it becomes inconvenient we shut up, that is very dangerous," said the priest.

Father Reyes said Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila is "very seasonal and very occasional."

"Let us not sacrifice morality for lesser values like peaceful coexistence," the priest told ucanews.com.

He said, "moral principles are not seasonal concerns," adding that violations of human rights are constant concerns of the church.

"The reduction of criminals to the level of pests is an immoral situation," said Father Reyes, a Franciscan.

The priest said the government should address the root cause of the problem and eradicate criminality from the source and not just the small-time drug offenders.

Nardy Sabino, secretary-general of the Promotion of Church People's Response, called on law enforcers "to secure and to respect the right to life and due process as [their] utmost responsibility."

"The president who promised to fight injustices must also look on how law enforcement in the country is being implemented," Sabino said.

The Department of the Interior announced that the government is planning to create community-based anti-crime and anti-corruption groups to report and arrest individuals involved in illegal activities. 

Retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz of Lingayen-Dagupan, a vocal critic of Duterte, said, "it is time to engage in fighting illegal drugs" in the country.

The prelate, however, warned "fighting criminality and drugs by summary execution is not appropriate."

"It saddens me to see that due to what is happening now in the country, people seem to have a shallow understanding and appreciation of life," he said.

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