MANILA (AFP) – Catholic bishops yesterday led thousands of Philippine worshippers in calling for an end to killings in President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war as they urged police and troops to stop the violence.
The killing of three teenagers in August triggered rare public protests against Mr Duterte’s anti-drugs campaign, with rights groups accusing him of committing crimes against humanity in a crackdown that has claimed thousands of lives.
The Catholic Church, which counts 80 percent of Filipinos as followers, has been one of the leading critics of the war on
drugs and has launched campaigns to stop the killings, including one starting yesterday dubbed “Heal Our Land”.
The church organised a mass and procession along a historic Manila highway called EDSA, where a bloodless popular revolt ended the iron rule of dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.
About 3,000 people – including opposition lawmakers, students and church groups – joined the event, according to police. They carried candles and placards reading, “Stop the Killings. Start the Healing”.
“Peace to you in the armed forces and the police. Stop the violence and uphold the law,” Archbishop Socrates Villegas, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, said at the mass.
“If we do not stop the killings, there will be a punishment for a nation that kills its own people.”
Mr Duterte’s spokesman Harry Roque yesterday said the president did not condone extrajudicial killings, adding the government was investigating another 2,243 deaths in unsolved “drug-related” cases.
Critics say Mr Duterte’s frequent public pronouncements on the drug war have been direct incitements to kill.