By Ashley Jose/Manila Times
The bishops of San Jose, Nueva Ecija and Balanga, Bataan have joined the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) in offering protection to policemen and others willing to testify on extra-judicial killings linked to the war on drugs.
Bishop Roberto Mallari of San Jose, chairman of the CBCP Commission on Catechesis and Catholic Education, said his diocese was willing to provide refuge to those who fear for their lives.
On Monday, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates “Soc” Villegas said several conscience-stricken policemen behind drug-related killings had sought the Church’s protection.
“I am with him and we are opening our doors as sanctuary to those who want to stand for the truth,” Mallari said on Thursday.
Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga likewise said: “We support and we are in solidarity with Archbishop Soc.”
Providing sanctuary has been a long-time Church practice, said retired Lingayen-Dagupan archbishop Oscar Cruz.
The Church only provides sanctuary and protection to refugees and persecuted people upon their request, Cruz pointed out. “These people come to the Church first, before they turn themselves over to the state because they fear for their lives. Providing sanctuary is not forever,” Cruz explained.
The CBCP’s move has been criticised by the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption. The latter accused the bishops of sowing distrust against authorities.
Malacanang echoed the PNP and said leaders of the Catholic Church should be more discerning in providing refuge for policemen who claim to be witnesses to extra-judicial killings under the government’s anti-drug campaign.
“We welcome the efforts of the Church to help these cops mend their ways. However, we hope the Church exercises due diligence as there are drug protectors, kidnappers, kotong (police officials into extortion) and ninja (corrupt) cops who want to destroy the ongoing campaign against illegal drugs,” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said in a statement.
“We urge a certain objectivity to avoid being used by the said aberrations,” Abella added.
Solicitor General Jose Calida also claimed that communist groups, “yellows” or members of the Liberal Party, and the Catholic Church were conspiring to oust President Rodrigo Duterte from office.
Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr did not tag the Church’s efforts as part of a destabilisation plot but called on the bishops to scrutinise the people they provide refuge to.
“We are just pointing out that not all those who seek the help of the Church all want to renew their faith, but are just trying to escape liability for their old ways. We welcome the efforts of the Church as part of the community, but they should also be discerning,” Padilla said.
“Not everyone is sincere in mending their ways,” he added.
Hundreds of drug suspects and others have been killed in the government’s brutal war on drugs, including 54 children and the three teenagers—Kian de los Santos, Carl Arnaiz and Reynaldo de Guzman.
A Social Weather Stations survey released on Thursday showed that seven out of 10 Filipinos feared getting killed in anti-drug operations.
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