MANILA, Philippines – The Austrian Catholic Bishops' Conference joined their Filipino counterparts in slamming the human rights abuses in the Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte.
In a declaration on Friday, March 17, the Austrian bishops also condemned the proposals to reinstate the death penalty in the Philippines, and to lower the age of criminal responsibility to 9. (READ: CBCP on death penalty vote: We shall not be silenced)
This is the first non-Filipino Catholic bishops' conference to speak out against human rights abuses in Duterte-led Philippines.
The General Assembly of the Austrian Catholic Bishops' Conference said their group "shares the fundamental concerns" of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and "supports their firm advocacy for justice."
The CBCP earlier issued a statement against the "reign of terror" in poor Filipino communities as Duterte's war on drugs kills at least 7,000 people in the Philippines.
"This is why the bishops of Austria call upon political decision-makers in Austria to commit themselves to the respect of human rights in the Philippines," the Austrian bishops said.
"The Austrian government and European institutions are asked to use all political power and diplomatic channels to bring public attention to these human rights violations and help mitigate them," they added.
Heinz Hödl, a director at the Austrian Catholic Bishops' Conference, relayed this declaration to Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the CBCP, in a letter on Friday. Villegas in turn sent Hödl's letter to Filipino reporters.
CBCP responds to Austrian bishops
In response, Villegas conveyed the CBCP's "profound gratitude" to the Austrian bishops through a letter on Saturday, March 18.
Villegas told Hödl, "We know we are also called to be martyrs for the same Lord and his teachings."
"Indeed, the face of God is mercy, and this teaching is becoming harder and harder to proclaim in a creeping culture of death. We will not be silenced and we will not relent," the Filipino archbishop said.
Villegas also told the Austrian bishops, "Please continue to remember us in your prayers as we share with you the humble merits of our sacrifices during this reign of terror in our country."
The Austrian bishops' statement comes as other members of the international community also slam the human rights abuses in the Philippines, as well as the proposals to revive the death penalty here.
Most recently, the European Union reportedly told the United Nations Human Rights Council that it "is seriously concerned about the human rights situation in the Philippines."
The European Parliament also called for the "immediate release" of detained Philippine Senator Leila de Lima, Duterte's fiercest critic, who wants the President investigated over alleged human rights abuses. – 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.