MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Philippines' most influential cardinal appealed to the country's leaders on Friday, September 8, to stop the rampant killings in President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs, as "we cannot govern the nation by killing."
"With pain and horror, we continue to get daily news of killings around the country," Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle said in a letter issued past 8 am on Friday.
"We cannot allow the destruction of lives to become normal. We cannot govern the nation by killing. We cannot foster a humane and decent Filipino culture by killing," Tagle said.
He continued: "As we denounce as inhuman and un-Christian an act willfully intended and planned to inflict harm or death on a human person, we call on those who harm or kill others to listen to their conscience, the voice of God that summons us to do good and avoid evil."
"Heartless violence can be conquered only by a change of heart and by discovering in the depths of our being the inclination to do good and to love our neighbor," Tagle added.
Issued on the Catholic feast of the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, this is the cardinal's strongest written statement against drug-related killings.
(Read Tagle's full statement in the Scribd document below)
Duterte's spokesman reacts
Reacting to Tagle's statement, Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said Duterte shares the cardinal's concern about Filipino families.
Abella, however, sought to counter Tagle's words.
"Much attention was given to the recent spate of deaths," Duterte's spokesman pointed out.
"The 1,308,078 drug personalities who voluntarily surrendered, as of July 26, 2017, belie the claim that 'we cannot allow the destruction of lives to become normal' and 'we cannot govern the nation by killing,'" Abella added.
"The illegal drug problem affects us all, and we appreciate the initiative of His Eminence to have a multi-sectoral dialogue attended by bishops, representatives from relevant government agencies, media, and the youth," he said.
'Stop wasting human lives'
This comes as the deaths of 3 teenagers – 17-year-old Kian Loyd delos Santos, 19-year-old Carl Angelo Arnaiz, and 14-year-old Reynaldo de Guzman – fueled public outrage against Duterte's war on drugs.
"We knock on the consciences of those who kill even the helpless, especially those who cover their faces with bonnets, to stop wasting human lives," Tagle said on August 19.
More than 14,100 people have been killed in both police operations and vigilante-style killings since Duterte began his drug war in July 2016. Of this number, at least 3,811 have been tagged as drug personalities killed in anti-drug operations as of August 29.
Meanwhile, 2,098 have died in drug-related homicide cases, and 8,200 others in homicide cases under investigation as of June 16.
The Catholic Church is one of the staunchest critics of the widespread killings under Duterte. Other religious groups, such as the United Methodist Church, have also slammed the drug-related deaths in the Philippines. – 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.