Philippine National Police chief Ronald de la Rosa distributes gifts to families of victims of drug-related killings in an urban poor community in Manila as part of the government's campaign against illegal drugs. (Photo by Angie de Silva)
Church leaders in the Philippines warned of "more killings" after the national police announced it is relaunching the government's controversial anti-narcotics war.
Human rights groups say that the anti-illegal drugs campaign of President Rodrigo Duterte has claimed the lives of at least 13,000 people since it was launched in 2016.
National Police chief Ronald de la Rosa promised a "bloodless" operation, adding that police would observe the "true spirit" of “tokhang,” the police anti-narcotics campaign.
"Tokhang," a combination of the Visayan words "toktok [knock]" and "hangyo [appeal]," is the police's door-to-door campaign to convince drug users to surrender for rehabilitation.
"The spirit of 'Tokhang,' if implemented properly, is bloodless," said De la Rosa. "That’s why it’s called knock and plead," added the police chief.
Bishop Virgilio David of Kalookan, however, expressed doubt over whether the authorities would be able to get rid of the stigma of the killings that came with the campaign last year.
"They have barely washed the blood from the unresolved killings," said the prelate.
In its own "accomplishment report" released last the month, the government listed 3,967 "drug personalities" killed during the anti-drug operations while 16,355 homicide cases were reported to be under investigation.
"How many 'deaths under investigation' perpetuated by masked vigilantes have been resolved? Why have the killers never been apprehended, pursued, or caught," said Bishop David.
The prelate told ucanews.com that the killings never stopped even after the police declared in October last year the suspension of the anti-narcotics campaign.
Bishop David said that at least 19 people were killed from Oct. 13 to Jan. 13 near his residence in Caloocan, where most drug-related killings in the national capital were reported.
"What more do we expect [with the re-launch of the campaign]? Your guess is as good as mine," said the bishop.
Benedictine nun Mary John Mananzan, a vocal critic of the government's anti-narcotics war, also said that killings have not stopped.
"The re-launching only means intensifying the drug war, and we will see more deaths," she said. "Of course the victims will continue to be the poor."
Nardy Sabino, secretary-general of the Promotion of Church People’s Response, said the resumption of the anti-illegal drugs campaign will only "strengthen the culture of impunity" in the country.
"There is no remorse in the leadership of the national police to the countless cases of abuses and murders," he said.
"The police must focus on the supply chain. They should arrest big drug dealers and not kill the poor who are just victims of this huge industry," said the lay church leader.