People watch as a woman cradles the body of her partner who was shot by unidentified gunmen believed to be anti-illegal drugs vigilantes in Manila. (Photo by Vincent Go)
An influential group of church leaders in the Philippines have expressed alarm over people's silence amid scores of killings linked to the government's war against narcotics.
"We are alarmed at the silence of the government, groups, and majority of the people in the face of these killings," said the major Catholic religious orders in the country.
In a statement released on Aug. 23, the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines warned that, "evil prospers where good men are silent."
"Is this lack of public outcry a tacit approval of what is happening? Is it fear that prevents people from speaking out?" the statement said.
"Whatever the reason, this problem, if it remains unchecked, will lead to a culture of impunity," the religious leaders added.
Philippine National Police chief Ronald de la Rosa told a Senate inquiry on Aug. 22 that some 1,800 people had been killed since President Rodrigo Duterte ordered an all-out war on narcotics on July 1.
The police chief said that 712 drug traffickers and users had been killed in police operations while 1,067 killings are still under "investigation."
Support for anti-illegal drugs drive
The leaders of the religious orders said they support the government's "serious crusade" against illegal drugs.
The group, however, said it is "alarmed at the continued extrajudicial killings, which seem to go unchecked, without trial or investigation."
"As religious and consecrated persons, we believe that the wheels of justice should take their course following the proper procedure and operate within the bounds of the law," the group said.
They urged authorities to "pursue and apprehend vigilantes" suspected of being behind many of the summary executions and target any officials thought to have connections with the illegal drug trade.
"We need to weed out the corrupt in our security forces as well as in the prosecution service as well as the judiciary," the group said.
"The drug menace is an intricate web of corruption and patronage that feeds on the insatiable desire of people for profit," they added.
The church leaders said they will "support the need for reforms in the criminal justice system and the need for rehabilitation for drug dependents" and to hold Masses and prayer vigils for peace and justice in affected communities.
The United States, said Aug 23. it was "deeply concerned" by the reports of the killings and the State Department urged Duterte's government to abide by human rights norms.