MANILA, Philippines — Leaders of the Catholic church joined the growing chorus of outrage over the government’s bloody war on drugs, with Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle urging “acts of compassion” and the Lingayen-Dagupan archdiocese to ring its bells nightly for three months in honor of slain teenager Kian Lloyd delos Santos.
“Words of solidarity without tears and acts of compassion are cheap,” Tagle said in a pastoral letter to be read after communion at all masses on Sunday. The letter was also posted on the website of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.
Though opposition to the drug war killings, which have claimed thousands of lives since last year, had been mostly muted, the death of Delos Santos, a 17-year old senior high school student from Caloocan City, sparked widespread condemnation after police claims he died in shootout were belied by closed circuit television footage and witness accounts that tended to indicate the coldblooded execution of an innocent.
Delos Santos’ death was one of more than 80 in what is seen as one of the bloodiest weeks in the war on drugs declared by President Rodrigo Duterte. Ironically, the killings appeared to intensify after Duterte admitted his inability to stamp out drugs within his term, a complete reversal of his earlier pledge to do so within three months of assuming office, which he had already stretched to six months and then a year.
In his letter, Tagle urged Catholics to “conquer evil with good” and “save the lives of people most vulnerable to drug dependency: the youth, the poor, and unemployed” as he stressed the need to tell the stories behind the statistics to make people understand the real score.
“Families with members who have been destroyed by illegal drugs must tell their stories. Families with members who have been killed in the drug war, especially the innocent ones, must be allowed to tell their stories. Drug addicts who have recovered must tell their stories of hope. Let their stories be told, let their human faces be revealed,” he said.
At the same time, he pleaded with drug manufacturers and dealers to end their trade and “knock on the consciences of those who kill even the helpless, especially those who cover their faces with bonnets, to stop wasting human lives.”
On the other hand, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, who is also CBCP president, ordered the tolling of church bells for 15 minutes from 8 p.m. every night from August 22 to November 27 to awaken the “blind and numb” consciences of the faithful, especially those who applaud the drug war killings.
“Ang bagting ng kampana ay tawag ng paggising sa bayang hindi na marunong makiramay sa ulila, nakalimutan nang makiramay, at duwag na magalit sa kasamaan. Ang tunog ng kampana ay tawag na ihinto ang pagsang-ayon sa patayan (The bells’ toll is a call of awakening for a nation that no longer knows how to condole with the bereaved, that has forgotten how to empathize, and has become too afraid to be angry at evil. The sound of the bells is a call to stop supporting the killings)!” he said in a letter posted by Radyo Veritas.
“Pumapalakpak ang kababayan at sumisigaw nang may ngiti, ‘Dapat lang!’, habang binibilang ang bangkay sa dilim, habang bumabaybay sa kaliwa’t kanang lamay sa patay (Our countrymen applaud and shout with glee, ‘Serves them right!’, as we count the corpses in the dark, as we make our way to one wake after the other),” Villegas lamented.
“Ito na ba ang bagong tama? Bakit kakarampot na lamang ang kababayang naaawa sa mga ulila? Hindi na ba tayo marunong umiyak? Bakit hindi na tayo nasisindak sa tunog ng baril at agos ng dugo sa bangketa (Is this the new norm? Why are there so few people who pity the orphans? Do we no longer know how to cry? Why are we no longer disturbed by the sounds of guns and the blood flowing in the streets)?” he asked as he pointed out what many have observed, the seemingly selective justice that has seen thousands of the poor riddled with bullets while the rich and well-connected are granted the privilege of investigation and due process.
“Ibalik natin ang pagiging tao. Ibalik natin ang dangal [ng] Pilipino. Ikampana ang dangal ng buhay! Ikampana ang karapatan ng mga pinapatay na mahihirap (Let us return to our humanity. Let us take back our dignity as Filipinos. Make noise for the dignity of life! Make noise for the rights of the poor who are killed)!” Villegas said.
Read the letters of Tagle and Villegas below.
CARDINAL TAGLE’S LETTER:
Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Archdiocese of Manila,
On August 12-17, 2017, I participated in the meeting of Caritas Latin America held in El Salvador, a country where many people had been killed in a civil war. Until now it still contends with armed groups. In El Salvador, I heard news of the increase of killings in our own country due to an intensified war against illegal drugs. I am inviting you to reflect, pray and act.
First, all Filipinos agree that the menace of illegal drugs is real and destructive. We must face and act upon together, as one people. Unfortunately, it has divided us. Given the complexity of the issues, no single individual, group or institution could claim to have the only right response. We need one other. We cannot disregard each other. Let us invite families, national government agencies, local government units, people’s organizations, schools, faith-based communities, the medical profession, the police and military, recovering addicts etc. to come together, listen to each other and chart a common path. The illegal drug problem should not be reduced to a political or criminal issue. It is a humanitarian concern that affects all of us. The Archdiocese of Manila would be willing to host such multi-sectoral dialogue.
Secondly, to understand the situation better, we need not only statistics but also human stories. Families with members who have been destroyed by illegal drugs must tell their stories. Families with members who have been killed in the drug-war, especially the innocent ones, must be allowed to tell their stories. Drug addicts who have recovered must tell their stories of hope. Let their stories be told, let their human faces be revealed. We knock on the consciences of those manufacturing and selling illegal drugs to stop this activity. We knock on the consciences of those who kill even the helpless, especially those who cover their faces with bonnets, to stop wasting human lives. Recall the words of God to Cain who killed his brother Abel, “Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the soil” (Genesis 4:10). Those with sorrowful hearts and awakened consciences may come to your pastors to tell your stories and we will document them for the wider society. I call on all the parishes in the Archdiocese of Manila to mark the nine days from August 21 (Memorial of St. Pope Pius X) to August 29 (Beheading of St. John the Baptist) as time to offer prayers at all masses for the repose of those who have died in this war, for the strength of their families, for the perseverance of those recovering from addiction and the conversion of killers.
Finally, let us conquer evil with good (Romans 12:21). Let us save the lives of people most vulnerable to drug dependency: the youth, the poor and unemployed. Words of solidarity without tears and acts of compassion are cheap. I enjoin our parishes and vicariates to commit again to the parish-based drug rehabilitation program of the Archdiocese of Manila called Sanlakbay in partnership with the local government and police. I ask the Basic Ecclesial Communities and other organizations of the lay faithful to care for our neighborhoods in coordination with our partners.
“May the Lord bless you and keep you! May the Lord let His face shine upon you and be gracious to you! May the Lord look upon you kindly and grant you peace!” (Numbers 6:24-26)
+Luis Antonio G. Cardinal Tagle
Archbishop of Manila
19 August 2017
ARCHBISHOP VILLEGAS’ LETTER: