MANILA, Philippines – For the first time, Catholics in the Archdiocese of Manila will gather in a publicized Mass on Monday, July 25, to pray for victims of killings since President Rodrigo Duterte won the Philippine presidency.
The theme of the Mass is clear: "Huwag kang papatay" (Thou shall not kill).
The Mass is set at 5 pm on Monday, when Duterte holds his first State of the Nation Address. Organizers call it "Misa para sa mga Kaluluwa at Pamilya ng Pinaslang mula Hunyo 2016" (Mass for the Souls and Families of Those Killed since June 2016).
Families of victims of extrajudicial killings have been invited.
The venue is St Vincent de Paul Parish Church in San Marcelino Street beside Adamson University in Ermita, Manila, according to the Facebook page of the group "Huwag Kang Papatay."
"Magsuot po tayo ng black shirt. Everybody is invited to join the event," the group Huwag Kang Papatay said. (Let us wear a black shirt. Everybody is invited to join the event.)
This is the first major movement of Catholics in response to Duterte's bloody war against illegal drugs.
Estimates show at least 300 people have died in the war against drugs. This figure includes those killed in legitimate police operations and those in extrajudicial killings as well.
'Where are the bishops?'
On Thursday, July 21, De La Salle Philippines president Brother Jose Mari Jimenez criticized this spate of killings. He also criticized "the absence of a significant public outcry" against this "blatant contempt" for human life.
Ahead of Jimenez's statement, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) on June 20 also denounced "vigilantism" in the country.
Many bishops, however, have personally remained silent on the extrajudicial killings happening under Duterte. In contrast, issues such as the Reproductive Health bill had been met with louder opposition from Catholic leaders. (READ: When prophets fall silent)
After Duterte in May slammed the Catholic Church itself, the usually outspoken CBCP president, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, preferred not to counter Duterte's statements.
Instead, Villegas, in his personal capacity, issued a message saying, "There is virtue in silence." He said, "Mine is the silence of Jesus before the arrogance of Pilate."
The recent silence of bishops prompted a priest, Fr Ranhilio Callangan Aquino, to ask in a Thought Leaders piece for Rappler: "Where are the bishops who should be championing, in no uncertain terms, the cause of human rights and the sacredness of the life of even the most detestable of offenders?" – 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.