Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan leads the celebration of Mass during the second day of the Philippine Conference on New Evangelization in Manila on July 19. (Photo by Roy Lagarde)
A Catholic bishop in Manila has voiced frustration over his "failure" to protect hundreds of people killed in his diocese during Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's ongoing war against drugs.
Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan said he was especially saddened over his failure to prevent the killing of a murder victim's widow on July 18.
"I feel so, so, so, so sad that I am not able to protect my flock from the wolves," the prelate told the Philippine Conference on New Evangelization in Manila on July 19.
"Today, in utter shame and frustration, I declare I have not been a good shepherd to my flock," said the bishop.
"The wolves, they have been prowling the streets and alleys of [Manila suburbs of] Caloocan, Malabon, and Navotas for almost two years now," he said.
"They have killed hundreds already, and I am unable to protect them with my life," said Bishop David.
He identified the latest victim as Jennifer Taborada, a 27-year-old widow and mother of two young children who had been leading a support group for relatives of murder victims in the diocese.
Masked gunmen killed Taburada about 8 p.m. on July 18.
The prelate said a member of the support group sent a picture of a woman "sprawled, bloody and on a cold pavement."
"I recognized her immediately, Jennifer. She was one of the widows who applied for a scholarship for her son, Prince Junior, just a few months ago," said Bishop David.
"It broke my heart to tell her that we took only one scholar per family. She was trying to get two slots for her two children," recalled the prelate.
"I remember Jennifer. She was clutching the death certificate of her husband, Ryan, who had also been killed by masked killers a year ago," continued the bishop.
He recalled how Jennifer described her husband's death, how he was mutilated by the killers.
"I remember how I squirmed and whispered to her to remind her that her daughter was listening," said the bishop.
He said he would bow in shame if the "Good Shepherd" will denounce him as "a mere hireling who remains very safe and very secure ... while his sheep are being slaughtered."
In March, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency reported 4,075 "drug-linked" people had been killed since June 2016 when operations against illegal drugs began.
The Philippine National Police and the presidential palace acknowledged 4,354 killings from July 1, 2016, to June 30 this year, much lower than the 12,000 estimated by rights group Human Rights Watch.