MANILA, Philippines – While other bishops have remained silent on the recent killings in the Philippines, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas is set to preach his warning on Sunday, August 7, against the Duterte administration’s bloody war against illegal drugs.
Speaking as an individual bishop, Villegas said in a statement, "From a generation of drug addicts, shall we become a generation of street murderers?"
It is the strongest statement by a Catholic bishop against the bloody anti-drug war waged by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
Villegas, also the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), is also the most prominent Catholic leader to speak out against the recent killings.
He is the latest in a series of individual Catholic leaders condemning the murders related to Duterte’s anti-drug campaign.
Earlier, Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, De La Salle Philippines president Brother Jose Mari Jimenez, Ateneo de Manila University president Father Jose Ramon Villarin, and the Association of Major Religious Superiors of Women in the Philippines, among others, took turns in slamming the recent killings.
Villegas on killings: 'Enough'
Villegas, however, was not releasing his latest statement as CBCP president.
He did not explicitly refer to Duterte, but cited the "anti-drug campaign" and the killings that have "reached hundreds now for the past two months."
Up to 400 people have died in drug-related police operations pushed by the long-time Davao City mayor known as "The Punisher."
At the same time, vigilante-style murders have killed other suspected drug pushers. Philippine broadcast giant ABS-CBN reports that 603 people have been killed since Duterte's election in May, with 211 murdered by unidentified gunmen.
Condemning these killings, Villegas said: "Lay aside the bishop’s robes and the CBCP position. I am only a human being. My humanity is in grief. I am in utter disbelief. If this is just a nightmare, wake me up and assure me it is not true. This is too much to swallow."
Villegas, a protegé of the outspoken Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin, said in his statement: "I am a human being. That is all it takes for me to stand up and say ENOUGH (emphasis his)."
Villegas said: "The humanity in me bleeds each time a fellow human is killed. The humanity in me cries each time I see a parent and a child grieve over loved ones killed on the sidewalk or thrown in grassy areas hogtied or masked with tape. The humanity in me grieves for fellow humans who do not mind killing criminals in the belief that their murders will lessen evil in the world."
'What has happened to humanity?'
Villegas then questioned the widespread indifference toward the recent killings. "When tears are replaced by wide smiles each time a human is killed, I shake my head and ask, 'What has happened to humanity?'"
He said, "In our dream to wipe out drug addiction, are we not becoming a 'killing fields' nation?"
Villegas wrote: "You will tell me, 'Let us give the anti-drug campaign a chance'? The youth need a safe and wholesome environment without the menace of drugs. We share the dream. Spare our children and youth from the evil of drug abuse. It is a great dream for young humanity."
He continued: "If drugs indeed kill, will killing the suspects remove the menace? Are we providing our children a safe haven, by teaching them by our tolerance of murders, that killing suspected criminals without fair hearing is a morally acceptable way to eradicate crime? From a generation of drug addicts shall we become a generation of street murderers? Will the do-it-yourself justice system assure us of a safer and better future?"
He said: "I pray that humanity be restored. I pray that decent humanity rise up to defend those who now live in fear that they will be next to be killed."
'Humanity will win in the end'
Toward the end of his statement, Villegas turned to his bashers on social media.
Villegas earned the ire of Duterte’s supporters after he criticized the long-time Davao City mayor in other statements before.
After the May 9 polls, Villegas released no stinging statement when Duterte denounced the Catholic Church a the "most hypocritical institution." Then, the archbishop justified his silence on the issue.
Without naming names, he said, "Mine is the silence of Jesus before the arrogance of Pilate."
In reaction, Duterte's supporters criticized Villegas for supposedly meddling in affairs of the state.
Having released his new statement, Villegas said, "Will you kill me again and again on the social media for saying this?"
"At this point, I do not care. I am ready to die," he said. "I have gotten used to be being bashed and 'killed' on social media. A part of me has died a hundred times in every killing I have seen these past weeks. What is another death for me?"
"In this valley of death, I grieve. In the life after, I will rejoice. Barbarism will not have the last laugh. Reason will prevail. Humanity will win in the end." – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at email@example.com.