A Roman Catholic archbishop in Philippines has ordered the church bells to ring for 15 minutes to inspire citizens to stand up against the mounting violence in the country.
The nation’s President Rodrigo Duterte has mounted a deadly war against drug trafficking that has left scores dead.
In 2016, Duterte won the general election and became the President. A controversial figure, he has incurred criticism from the international community for his rhetoric and actions. Fighting drug trafficking and illegal drug abuse is one of his key domestic policies. In order to effectively crackdown on drug trafficking, he has signaled that he would support extreme violence. He has even urged citizens to become vigilantes and kill who they believe is a drug addict.
The number of deaths in this deadly campaign has increased in the recent months. According to figures released by the government, an estimated 3,451 "drug personalities" have been killed in gun battles with police from the time Duterte took office till July 26, 2017.
The advocacy group, the Human Rights Watch has referred to Duterte’s reign as President as a “human rights calamity.” Some experts have claimed that Duterte’s campaign is more to do with class warfare than fixing the drug abuse.
The number of confirmed kills due to police raids has significantly increased in the recent weeks. More than 80 drug and crime suspects have reportedly been gunned down by law enforcement in the span of just three days. Within one night, more than 32 were killed near Manila.
Duterte has remained unrepentant and has said that the police have his unconditional support in these crackdowns. According to local media, he is believed to have said, “Let's kill another 32 every day, maybe we can reduce what ails this country. Many are being killed because the policemen are working. They are protected under my watch. Tell them [human rights advocates], 'police, shoot those who are part of it. If they are obstructing justice, you shoot them.”
The Catholic Church has begun officially speaking against the violence. Archbishop Socrates Villegas has ordered the Church bells to ring for 15 minutes. He said that this was being done to inspire a citizenry who “has become a coward in expressing anger against evil.” He added, ““The country is [in] chaos. The officer who kills is rewarded and the slain get the blame. The corpses could not longer defend themselves from accusations that they fought back.”
Manila Cardinal Luis Tagle, the head of the Philippines Catholic Church, has also condemned the actions of the government. He spoke to the public stating, “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. The illegal drug problem should not be reduced to a political or criminal issue. It is a humanitarian concern that affects all of us.”
Our assessment is that the Church might just prove to be the catalyst that results in open challenge of Duterte. Philippines is the only nation in Asia that boasts of being completely Christian. More than 86 percent of the population is Roman Catholic. There will be thousands who will seek direction from the Church in the coming months and begin to openly criticize Duterte.