Archbishop Romulo Valles of Davao, incoming president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines. (ucanews.com file photo by Ruby Thursday More)
The incoming president of the Philippine Catholic bishops' conference has caused a stir by saying anti-drug proliferation efforts should take precedence over narcotics-related slayings in the country.
Archbishop Romulo Valles of Davao said Filipinos should "push, inspire and not condemn" the country's police force "so they do better in their police work."
The prelate made the statement on Nov. 5 after celebrating a Mass offered to "save children from drugs" in the southern city of Davao.
His statement came on the same day that Catholic Church leaders in Manila and Cebu led the observance of "Lord, Heal Our Land Sunday" to dramatize their call to stop drug-related killings.
Most of the close to 12,000 killings of suspected drug users and peddlers have been blamed on the national police's "all-out war" against illegal drugs in the past year.
"We will not forget the killings. That is terrible. But one side of it is we will inspire the police to do their jobs according to the book," Archbishop Valles told reporters in Davao.
The incoming leader of the country's Catholic bishops, known to be a friend of President Rodrigo Duterte, said the problem of the proliferation of illegal drugs comes before the killings issue.
"I think we have to first address the problem of drugs. Drugs kill, not only [extrajudicial killings]. That comes in second," said the prelate who will take the helm of the bishops' conference on Dec. 1.
"I’m worried about it [the killings] but I also wish you do calculations on how many lives are destroyed by drugs, how many are killed by drugs, how many families are destroyed by drugs?" he added.
Priest, rights groups shocked
The Davao prelate's statement on the killings alarmed some church leaders and human rights advocates.
"This is not the kind of statement that I expected to hear from our pastor and a good bishop," said Carmelite Father Gilbert Billena who has been helping families of drug-related killings.
He said that as church people "we are always called by virtue of our prophetic mission to side with the poor and victims of the many senseless killings today."
The priest said that in his parish alone at least 50 people have been killed during anti-narcotics operations of the police.
"The law also states that every one should be given due process and criminals the opportunity to reform," he told ucanews.com.
He said that "as servants of God and His people, we are expected to offer our critical and in-depth analysis on the problem of drugs ... and policy of this government that leads to the killings."
"May our church leaders, specially our good bishops hear the cries of the souls of the victims and the continuing grief of the thousands of families left behind," the priest said.
Archbishop Valles, however, said that Filipinos have never realized the extent of the drug problem in the country until Duterte became president.
In his homily in Manila on Sunday, Archbishop Socrates Villegas, outgoing bishops' conference president, criticized fellow prelates and priests for "falling for the lure of comfort and the attraction of convenience [and] for giving in to the temptation to be powerful and popular rather than be humble and faithful."
He noted that Catholic Church leaders have the "tendency to judge rather than seek unity" and keep quiet "when we should speak."