Ping to conscience-stricken cops seeking church sanctuary: Senate open to hear your story

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Families of victims of drug killings weep in church as holy mass is offered by groups protesting extrajudicial executions. REUTERS FILE PHOTO

MANILA – Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson on Monday urged conscience-stricken cops and victims of extra-judicial killings who have sought protection and sanctuary with the Catholic Church to testify before the Senate and to share their experiences or their participation in the war on drugs.

At Monday’s Senate hearing on three teenagers separately killed in August in what are believed to have been done by state actors, Lacson extended the invitation to “running priest” Father Robert Reyes, whose church has taken in witnesses and families who were victims of extrajudicial killings.

Welcome po sana kung merong mapapadala dito na magte-testify. Nakita niyo naman po how we handle hearings dito [They are welcome here if you can bring in someone here to testify. You have already seen how we handle the hearings here],” Lacson told the priest.

The senator, who chairs the committee on public order and dangerous drugs, also cited the recent statement of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) that law enforcers had also sought the Church’s sanctuary after being troubled by their conscience for their participation in extrajudicial killings.

Sana po para direkta natin marinig sa sinasabi ninyo na mga pulis na nagpunta na sa mga simbahan at gustong magtestigo. Hindi lamang po ‘yon, yung mga biktima, welcome naman pong pumunta dito,” he said.

[I hope we could hear directly what you’ve been saying that some cops went to the Church and wanted to testify. Not only that, victims are also welcome to come here.]

Lacson added that their testimonies would help the Senate in seeking long-term solutions to address the problems plaguing the police as they mount anti-illegal drug operations.

Poe: positive development

Meanwhile, Senator Grace Poe in a statement lauded the Church for opening its arms to cops reportedly willing to testify about their participation in EJKs.

“These are positive developments we look forward to all for the sake of serving truth and justice to the victims and their families,” she said.

“The statement of Bishop Soc Villegas admonishing the priests concerned to be neutral and let the cops voluntarily come up with the truthful statements on their involvements, assisted by their chosen counsel, will surely help towards these ends,” she added.

Also at the hearing, Father Reyes said they would make an effort to bring those who were willing to testify. But he also pointed out that some were still scared to reveal what they know.

Ang problema lang po, Senator Ping, ‘yong takot po [The only problem, Senator Ping, is the fear],” he said.

Senator Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino then suggested having the witnesses placed under the Senate’s protective custody or having them testify in an executive session.

Lacson, on the other hand, urged the witnesses to draw inspiration from the other witnesses who came forward to present what they knew regarding the deaths of Kian Delos Santos and Carl Angelo Arnaiz.

Kung laging takot tapos magkukwento rin tapos takot naman humarap, wala po tayong mararating. Mas okay na po na humarap sila at pwede naman sa executive session. Pwede naman bigyan ng protective custody,” he said.

[If they afraid to come forward but they share their stories anyway, then we will not go anywhere. It’s better that they testify and it could be done in an executive session. They could also be given protective custody]

Father Joselito “Bong” Sarabia told senators that he has talked to about 50 families whose relatives were victims of EJKs and have flocked to his Church in Quezon City seeking protection.

He said about 10 to 15 families have positively tagged the police as involved in the killings of their relatives.

Kaya sobrang takot nila… Ito po ‘yung grabe pa ngayon ang trauma at hindi lang trauma ang nae-experience ng mga EJK families na ito. Gutom dahil breadwinner ‘yung nakuha. Pagkatapos grabe ang stigmatization. They are bulllied in school,” he said.

[That is why they are very scared…These are families who are still traumatized. And trauma is not the only thing that the EJK families are experiencing. They are hungry because their breadwinner was slain. And then, the stigmatization is also there. They are being bullied in school.]

For his part, Father Reyes said the war on drugs had made effects in communities: that people think the police can do anything with impunity and that it has created a climate of fear and distrust in the communities towards cops.

“The war on drugs has encouraged, enabled, and promoted extrajudicial killings. Whoever carries it out, whether men in uniform or whether vigilante groups, that’s immaterial,” he said.

He also mentioned in the hearing that priests did not want to be present when the police conduct their anti-drug operations.

“Our conscience dictates that we should not legitimize an operation which from the very beginning we already decided is immoral,” he said.

He added that Manila Archbishop Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle had repeatedly asked him to tell Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial to remind cops and the public that the illegal drug problem was a health issue.

“You do not solve a health issue with police force….Ang droga hindi [Drugs is not a] crime, it’s a health issue. A drug addict is sick. He is sick therefore a sick person needs medical or psychiatric or psychological attention,” he said.#