The Philippine government derided Catholic bishops on Sunday as “out of touch” after they used weekend sermons to attack a war on drugs they said had created a “reign of terror” for the poor.
Members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) had dramatised President Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign and, instead of criticising, should focus on contributing to the “reign of peace” that innocent people now felt, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said. The church assailed bloodshed that had caused suffering, and said killing people was not the way to deal with illegal drugs.
In a pastoral letter read out on Saturday and repeated to congregations at churches on Sunday, bishops said it was disturbing that many Filipinos were indifferent to the killings, or even approved of them. Abella, a former pastor, said the war on drugs had made the country safer, “far from the ‘terror’ the bishops paint rather dramatically.”
“The officials of the CBCP are apparently out of touch with the sentiments of the faithful who overwhelmingly support the changes in the Philippines,” Abella said in a statement. More than 7,600 people have been killed since Duterte unleashed a ferocious crackdown seven months ago, more than 2,500 in police raids and sting operations.
Human rights groups believe many other deaths that police had attributed to vigilantes were carried out by assassins likely colluding with police. The government and police vehemently deny extrajudicial killings have occurred. The CBCP’s message was read at numerous churches in Manila attended by Reuters, though not all. Church sources said the Archdiocese of Manila issued a circular telling parishes to read the pastoral letter, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters prior to the first readings.
The drugs war is a contentious issue, with some bishops keen to make a stand and others hesitant to risk a backlash by criticising a campaign that enjoys broad public support. Duterte has routinely attacked the Church, and as recently as this week called for a “showdown” with priests whom he has accused of having wives, engaging in homosexual acts, graft and child abuse.