The Philippine Catholic church, once a powerful entity that influenced the country’s sociopolitical landscape, appears to be losing its clout over issues surrounding the killings related to Pres. Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war.
While it used to hold sway over public opinion regarding political issues — having been highly instrumental in the two “people power” revolutions that ousted the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and former president Joseph Estrada — the Catholic church in the Philippines is uncertain how to express its opposition toward the present administration’s war on drugs.
Like many others who choose to keep mum on the drug killings, many clergymen are afraid. Opposing the drug war is “dangerous,” some of them said, and could cost them their lives.
"There is a lot of fear because the way people have been killed is vigilante-style so anyone could become a target ... There is no way of protecting yourself,” Manila priest Luciano Felloni told Reuters. Felloni said 30 people have been killed in his village, and the victims included women and children.
Last month, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines issued a statement regarding the extrajudicial killings related to the war against drugs saying they support the campaign and appreciate the president’s efforts to “tackle this very serious problem in the country.”
However, they voiced their “alarm” over the extrajudicial killings and urged the government to ensure the rule of law is followed.
“We are alarmed by the recent wave of extrajudicial killings that have taken place at the hands of police officers, and especially of vigilantes roaming our streets unchecked and un-apprehended,” the CBCB said in a statement. “Such violent procedure in tackling the situation mentioned above has caused justified apprehension among the majority of our citizen who are against any form of drug trafficking but expect justice to be rendered according to law.”
Recently, Duterte cursed priests who were standing against the drug war, saying if he stopped the campaign now, the nation will die.
"I'm really appalled by so many groups and individuals, including priests and bishops, complaining about the number of persons itong dito sa (here in the) operation against the drug problem," the president said.
The Philippine president has openly criticized the Catholic church in his speeches, even joking once that people should just join the “Iglesia ni Duterte” (Church of Duterte). He once called the Catholic church the “most hypocritical institution.”
Unlike in times past, the Catholic church does not get many supporters in their fight against the summary executions. This is because many people widely support the drug war and believe the church should not meddle this time.
This fact was emphasized by presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella.
"The Church needs to consider that recent surveys show the people trust and appreciate the president's efforts and it would do well to take heed and not presume that the people share their belief system,” Abella said.
The Catholic church itself is divided over the issue, as some priests are expressing support for the president’s crackdown against drug dealers and drug addicts. Jesuit priest Joel Tabora from Davao is among them.
"Are the means unnecessarily illegitimate?" Tabora said. "People are dying, yes, but on the other hand, millions of people are being helped.”