A Catholic bishop has dared authorities to unmask anti-narcotics vigilantes who are believed to be behind the spate of killings of suspected drug pushers and users in Manila.
In a homily during a Mass for victims of drug-related killings on July 2, Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan expressed disappointment over the failure of the police to catch the killers.
Most of the 7,000 so-called extra-judicial killings linked to the government's anti-narcotics war in the past year have been classified by police as "deaths under investigation."
Police reports usually label the victims as "drug suspect[s] killed by unidentified hitmen."
"I just want to know if they have resolved even just one of these cases under investigation? Just one," he said.
The prelate called the killers, "new Judases" and "termites ... who remain unseen."
"If you are listening, I want you to know that God knows who you are. The police do not know, the village does not know, the relatives of the victim do not know. But God knows," he said.
"You cannot hide from Him your faces, even if you wear hoods. God knows you," he added.
Bishop David wondered why the authorities fail to catch the killers despite closed-circuit television cameras in the streets of the city.
He said that while petty crimes are often seen on television "those who abduct people in front of their children and relatives, and kill those who are helpless ... cannot be seen."
"If you think that what you're doing is public service, you are wrong," said the prelate. "Crime cannot solve criminality," he added.
Bishop David made the statement following a "Walk for Life" on Sunday in Kalookan Diocese in the northern part of Manila, where most of the killings have occurred.
In his homily, the prelate described the vigilantes as "termites" that gnaw on wood from the inside.”
"This is the real and more terrifying plague.... Termites attack not only homes, but also society.
Human rights groups have condemned the Philippines' anti-illegal drug campaign because of the high death toll and allegations of summary executions.
Early this year, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines issued a pastoral statement saying that the traffic in illegal drugs needs to be stopped, but "the solution does not lie in the killing of suspected drug users and pushers."
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte defended his anti-drug war, saying that it was his "duty to destroy people who will destroy my country."
"It’s a matter of principle for me, and a matter of my sense of duty," said the president last week.
The Philippine National Police recorded 1,847 drug-related deaths since July 1, 2016, while 5,691 cases were classified as "under investigation."
On June 30, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency reported that the government was able to confiscate more than 2,446 kilograms of illegal drugs while some 1.3 million drug suspects had surrendered in the past year.