Philippine Churches Move to Counter Duterte's War on Drugs

Catholic church bells in the Northern District of the Philippines will be ringing every night for three months to protest the alarming rise in casualties in anti-drug operations.

Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas said the bells will ring for 15 minutes "to rouse Filipinos as they have become cowards in expressing anger against evil."

The former president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines made this statement in a pastoral letter read to all his parishes in the northern part of the country.

"The sounding of the bells is a call to stop the approval of killings. The country is in chaos. The officer who kills is rewarded and the slain get the blame. The corpses could no longer defend themselves from accusations that they 'fought back,'" the archbishop wrote. 

The strongly-worded letter came as a 17-year-old student was killed by authorities in a three-day "reloaded" drug war last week, where 80 others were fired upon and slain.

Authorities insist student Kian Lloyd Delos Santos was a "runner" for drug peddlers and that the youth shot it out with police when he was being arrested. Law enforcement officials have always maintained suspects who were killed "fired back" at authorities while they were fleeing from the arresting officers. Thus, officers had to resort to killing them, according to police reports after the fact.

But personal testimonies and a CCTV recording say otherwise.

De los Santos was apparently seen being dragged by police officers and brought to an alley where he was later found dead with three bullet wounds in different parts of his body.

Autopsy results later noted at least one fatal wound was a "treacherous wound."

Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle also released a statement on the killings.

"We knock on the consciences of those manufacturing and selling illegal drugs to stop this activity. We knock on the consciences of those who kill even the helpless, especially those who cover their faces with (scarves), to stop wasting human lives," he said.

Tagle is urging the public to join with the Archdiocese of Manila to hold a multi-sector dialogue to gather people in all walks of life, including drug addicts who want to reform. They will hear each other's stories and position on the issue of drug use and share their experiences on this social plague.

Most especially welcome, the archbishop said, are the former drug addicts who have been rehabilitated so that their renewed lives may inspire others who are still in the rut of addiction.

Tagle also called on all the dioceses of Manila to offer prayers at Mass from August 21 to August 29 for victims of the drug war, their families and their killers, as well as those recovering from drug addiction.

As the Catholic leaders make their statements and rally the faithful to condemn the continued extra-judicial killings, a government program, dubbed SIPAG, is being conducted across the country. "SIPAG" or Simula ng Pag-asa (beginning of hope) is a three-phase, faith-based recovery program for the surrendered drug dependents in the country

The project launched as a partnership between the Dangerous Drugs Board and the evangelical Christ's Commission Fellowship church, in support of President Duterte's war against drugs.

 Its three phases are: 1) Restore - rebuilding the damaged spiritual, self and social image of the participants; 2) Reconnect - restoring the spiritual, personal and social relationships of the participants; and 3) Release - developing participation and incorporating skills trainings.

SIPAG is not an official rehabilitation center. It is instead a faith-based recovery program, which runs in partnership with local churches and local government units. 

According to SIPAG's Facebook page, thousands have "surrendered their lives to God," the term evangelicals use when people repent from their sins and move on with transformed lives.

The site, replete with pictures and stories of God's redemption of drug-damaged citizens, continues to record the progress of thousands of "drug-free" transformed lives in places across the country.