Philippine military warns bishops on helping witnesses of killings

Criminal suspects may just want to use the church as a means of escape before going back to their old ways, says general
Philippine military warns bishops on helping witnesses of killings

Church groups hold a candle-lit protest in Manila on Oct. 6 to call for an end to the spate of drug-related killings in the country. (Photo by Angie de Silva)

The Philippine military warned Catholic Church leaders to be "discerning" in offering help to policemen and witnesses who wanted to reveal information about killings linked to President Rodrigo Duterte's deadly drug war.

Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Gen. Restituto Padilla said it could be "possible that not all those who seek the help of the Church may not be who they say they are."

He welcomed the "efforts of the church as part of the community," but said some of those who claimed to be witnesses, might "just want to use the Church so they can escape and go back to their old ways."

Last week, several Catholic bishops have expressed willingness to protect policemen who would testify on the spate of killings of suspected drug users and peddlers in the country.

The bishops made the announcement after Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, president of the bishops' conference, said on Oct. 2 that several policemen have sought the protection of the Church to testify on the killings.

Duterte spokesman Ernesto Abella said the government welcomes the "efforts of the Church to help these rogue [policemen] to mend their ways."

"However, we hope the Church exercises due diligence as there are drug protectors, kidnappers, [and corrupt policemen] who want to destroy the ongoing campaign against illegal drugs," he said.

"Furthermore, we urge a certain objectivity to avoid being used by said aberrations," added Abella.

Philippine National Police chief Ronald dela Rosa also said he is willing to hear the statements of the policemen who allegedly wanted to confess their involvement in the killings.

"We are ready to listen. Maybe a lot of things have been happening on the ground," said Dela Rosa in an interview. "If they have problems, then the [National Police] is ready to help them," he added.

The police chief said there is no problem about policemen seeking for the Church's help but he hoped that the law enforcers speak the truth.


Suspects being killed

An official of an international human rights group, meanwhile, disputed claims of Philippine Foreign Affairs chief Alan Peter Cayetano that the 3,800 people reported killed by policemen died because they put up a fight during police anti-illegal drugs operations.

John Fisher, director of Human Rights Watch, said those who were killed were victims of "extrajudicial killings."

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In an interview with television network Al Jazeera, Cayetano said policemen killed the suspects because they were all drug dealers who attempted to shoot the arresting law enforcers.

Fisher said, however, that those who died "have been simply shot as they were going about their business. There's no judicial process.... That's why they're called extra-judicial executions because it's without judicial proceedings."

"It's clear that many of the killings taking place here are happening without judicial process," he said.

Government spokesman Martin Andanar, however, said that without a death penalty in place, there can be no extrajudicial killings.

"We do not have judicial killing, we do not have capital punishment. It is prohibited to kill in our country. So why is there extrajudicial killing when there is no judicial killing? Why put ‘extra?’" said Andanar.

The Philippine National Police earlier announced that there had been 6,225 drug-related deaths between July 2016 and September 2017, with 3,850 people having "died in police operations."

The police said at least 2,290 "deaths under investigation" have already been determined to be "drug-related."

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