Dela Rosa: I take priests’ war on drugs criticism ‘positively’

Bea Cupin
Dela Rosa: I take priests’ war on drugs criticism ‘positively’
During a visit to a church that once hosted a photo exhibit on the drug war killings, the PNP chief says priests and police are both after preserving lives

MANILA, Philippines – “Pareho kaming Katoliko, Kristiyano, na gusto namin ma-preserve ‘yung buhay (We’re both Catholic, Christians, who want lives to be preserved).”

In an interview shortly after a visit to the Baclaran Church in Parañaque City on Tuesday, April 11, Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Ronald dela Rosa seemingly softened his sentiments toward priests who are critical of the current administration’s war on drugs.

The same church played host to an exhibit featuring images of killings linked to President Rodrigo Duterte’s popular but bloody campaign against illegal drugs. The photos, displayed right outside the church, were taken by photojournalists who documented nightly killings in and around Metro Manila since Duterte’s campaign launched in July 2016.

Photos included those done by unidentified men – either victims whose bodies were found dumped in dark alleys or those who were shot point-blank by gunmen. The exhibit, which was put up in December, is no longer at the church.

Talking to media on Tuesday, Dela Rosa said he is well-aware that many priests have criticized the war on drugs, but said he takes the feedback “positively.”

Pareho naman kaming for preservation of life…. We share the same sentiments. Ayaw namin ng may mamatay (We are both for the preservation of life. We share the same sentiments. We do not want people killed),” said Dela Rosa, who in February 2017 hit the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines for a statement made against the war on drugs.

Dela Rosa added in Filipino: “For as long as they’re exposing this to campaign for the preservation of life, no problem with me. But they should not direct it towards the PNP, accusing us of being behind the killings. That’s different.”

More than 4,000 deaths have been linked directly to the anti-narcotics campaign, over 2,500 of them at the hands of police during anti-illegal drugs operations. Another 1,500 or so deaths were determined to have been drug-related.

The PNP is still investigating more than 3,000 homicide cases with undetermined motives.

Since the campaign began, the PNP has had to defend itself from allegations of human rights abuses and its men and women turning to extrajudicial means to get the job done. The PNP has consistently denied these allegations and insists there are no such thing as extrajudicial or state-sponsored killings in the country.  

Police took a month-long hiatus from the drugs war late January 2017, after it was revealed that anti-narcotics police were behind the kidnapping and murder of a South Korean businessman.

After lambasting the PNP for being “corrupt to the core,” Duterte ordered their return to the drugs war in March 2017.

Dela Rosa and several other top police officials visited Baclaran church on April 11 to inspect the area for any security lapses ahead of Holy Week. They met with the church rector, Reverend Father Carlos Ronquillo, during the visit.

They did not, however, talk about the war on drugs, but focused on security preparations in the church. While he was going around the church complex, Dela Rosa asked mass goers to pray for the PNP. – 

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.