Legazpi bishop: 'Let us unite to stop the killings!'

LEGAZPI CITY, Philippines – Legazpi Bishop Joel Baylon urged his flock to unite against the killings in President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs, as a pastoral letter is set to be read in his diocese on Sunday, October 1.

In the pastoral letter titled "Stop the Killings, Start the Healing: A Call to Action," Baylon said, "We turn to you, our people, and commit to journeying with you in this time of darkness and bloodshed toward the building of a more just and humane society, with Christ and His Gospel as our guiding light."

"Let us unite to stop the killings in our communities!" he said, as he listed ways to "start the healing."

The bishop, for one, moved to counter the culture of "exclusion" with communion. "We shall make our parishes and schools, our media outlets and social media accounts, platforms for truth-telling, venues for dialogue among various stakeholders, and common ground for listening to voices that may speak different opinions but share common aspirations."

"We shall teach the young to shun illegal drugs, and also to uphold the life and dignity of the human person," Baylon added.

He also urged people to reach out to care for families of victims of killings, bring hope to substance use dependents and their families, and resolve to start and sustain more community-based rehabilitation programs in their parishes.

“We shall demand accountability and transparency from our leaders in government and law enforcement," he added.

Finally, he called on people to pray together.

"We shall continue the Prayer at Nine accompanied by the ringing of church bells at 9 in the evening. Let the same prayer be recited during Sunday Masses as well. Let us join the nationwide Forty Days of Prayer for the Dead until November 1. Let us bring back the beautiful penitential tradition called Perdon in our parishes in these trying times," Bishop Baylon said.

'Drug addiction a disease'

The prelate of Legazpi explained that drug addiction is a disease and a public health concern that need to be addressed by the government in a proper way, not through extrajudicial killings (EJKs).

Baylon had written an open letter to Duterte in November 2016, asking him to put an end to EJKs.

But the plea "fell on deaf ears and stony hearts," the prelate lamented. However, "the recent murders of several youngsters and attempts to restrain the promotion of human rights have awakened the consciences of many," he said.

The Diocese of Legazpi has also issued a circular in support of these calls to action.

Earlier, Monsignor Cris Bernarte, parish priest of Holy Fatima in Tahao Road, told the people not to be scared and to stand up against extrajudicial killings.

"Fake news and extrajudicial killings are taking place under the present administration. Coalesce to condemn what's happening in our country. If you keep quiet in the ongoing extrajudicial killings, you're accepting the norm of EJK," Bernarte said during his homily at Saint Rose of Lima Parish in Bacacay town a few weeks ago.

The church officials said that the growing culture of violence, disregard of human rights, and impunity are eroding the people's conscience and integrity as a nation. 

Father Rex Arjona, executive director of Social Action Center (SAC), said that the diocese supports Duterte's war on drugs through rehabilitation and without bloodshed.

Arjona said the diocese has implemented the "Harong Paglaom" (House of Hope) program since last year. It aims to help rebuild substance users for recovery, spiritual guidance and "life skills" training – in collaboration with local government units – to reintegrate them in mainstream society.

The House of Hope was piloted in Barangays Rawis and San Roque in partnership with the Legazpi City government. Arjona said that this scheme is continuing the program of the diocese to rescue drug victims. – Rappler.com