AFTER a year of surveying the bloody landscape, local Catholic bishops finally spoke up with one voice Tuesday against the unabated spot execution of suspected drug pushers/users caught in the Duterte administration’s anti-narcotic drive.
In a pastoral letter titled “Lord, heal our land,” the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines rode the rising wave of criticism against the drug drive that has seen the gunning down of some 10,000 suspects since it was launched a year ago.
Most bishops had been just watching quietly, but a few — notably archbishops Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan and Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle of Manila – have been apprising their flock of the moral crisis arising from human rights violations.
The CBCP asked the dominantly Catholic nation to start on Sept. 23 devotional 40 days of special prayers, ringing of church bells, lighting of candles, and aiding of victims of armed conflicts. The bishops’ call came even as:
1. Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, tagged the Philippines among countries with human rights issues at the Sept. 11 opening of the Human Rights Council 36th session. He deplored the Aug. 16 gunning down of student Kian Loyd delos Santos while allegedly resisting police arrest in Caloocan.
2. The New York-based Human Rights Watch and the International Narcotics Control Board denounced last Thursday the impunity that has marked the Philippine anti-narcotics war. Malacañang has dismissed the criticism as interference in a domestic issue.
3. Critical comments have been rising in mainstream and social media on the administration’s handling of human rights issues and the dissemination of false news and lies in state-controlled outlets.
4. Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said Malacañang relations with the Church would improve when Villegas is replaced on Dec. 1 by Davao archbishop Romulo Valles as CBCP president. Abella described Valles as a friend of Mr. Duterte.
The CBCP clarified it was calling out not the President but the violent drift of his narcotic campaign that lately has taken down unarmed youths, including Delos Santos, 17, Carl Arnaiz, 19, and Reynaldo de Guzman, 14, within days of one another.
“They were young boys, enjoying life, loving sons of parents who doted on them,” the bishops said. “Now an entire nation knows them by name, because their lives have been snuffed out so cruelly, their dreams and aspirations forever consigned to the sad realm of ‘what could have been but never will be.”
The bishops said: “In the name of God, stop the killings! May the justice of God come upon those responsible for the killings!”
• 40-day candle-lit prayers, bell-ringing
THE CBCP letter said: “When we label members of our society because of the offenses they commit – or that we impute rightly or wrongly against them – as ‘unsalvageable,’ ‘irremediable,’ ‘hopelessly perverse,’ or ‘irreparably damaged,’ it becomes easier for us to consent to their elimination if not to participate outright in their murder.
“We stand firmly against drugs and the death that drugs have caused, but killing is not the solution of the problem. The mercy of the Good Shepherd who leaves the 99 in search of the lost sheep is the only reason why we are still here—awa ng Diyos.
“The ‘mandate’ to kill the lost sheep is poison for humanity. The wounded need healing, not more blows, and the fallen need our hands to be able to rise again, not our feet to trample on them.
“We your bishops call for pakikiramay, pakikipagkapwa-tao and malasakit in action. The action to which we bid you all is utterly Christian. It is the most powerful weapon in our arsenal – the action of prayer.
“1. We invite you to offer prayers particularly for those killed in the government’s campaign against drugs, as well as for all victims of violence and the war in Marawi, in our country for a 40-day period, starting Sept. 23 and ending on Nov. 1. Please offer the rosary daily for those killed, and receive Holy Communion as an offering for their souls. May the souls of the killed find rest. Prayer heals us. Prayer helps their souls.
“2. Subject to the approval of the diocesan bishops, we appeal for the pealing of church bells at 8 p.m. during the same 40-day period in remembrance of the souls of those killed. The ancient pious tradition of De Profundis is worth restoring. Let the bells call us to pray for the dead.
“3. One beautiful Filipino custom observed in prayerful remembrance of the dead is the tirik ng kandila sa patay. We urge Filipino Catholics, during the 40-day period, to light candles in front of their homes, in cemeteries, in public places, and particularly, at spots where the victims of the on-going violence have been felled, while praying for them and their families. Candle-lighting can soothe grieving hearts.
“4. Finally, we beg you to contribute to the support and the schooling of the orphaned children of the victims of these murders, or of their siblings, or the support and sustenance of their families. Alms-giving covers many sins. Alms-giving heals.
“We intend to offend none but the evil in our midst. We are angry at none but the indifference among us. We fight the darkness not with spark of bullets but with the light of Christ. We beg for prayers and we ask for a change of heart in all of us.
“Let us turn once more to God, for they who put their trust in bullets and weapons will be confounded. But upon the nation that turns to God and prays, God promises the healing of the land and the calming of the storms that rage in our hearts.
“Let the healing begin.”