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Duterte clashes with the Catholic Church

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By Catherine Hardy  with REUTERS, AMNESTY
Duterte clashes with the Catholic Church

  • Catholic Church condemns the “war on drugs”
  • Duterte suspends police involvement in crackdown
  • Reports of extrajudicial killings denied

President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs has come under attack from the Catholic Church in the Philippines.

Sermons read out at the weekend says Duterte’s hard-line campaign has installed a “reign of terror” among the poor.

There has been no immediate comment on the bishops’ letter from the president’s office.

What the Church says

Beginning with Mass services on Saturday evening, priests read out the letter signed by the bishops of Asia’s biggest Catholic nation.

The address did not mention Duterte by name, but urged “elected politicians to serve the common good of the people and not their own interests.”

It also called for steps to tackle “rogue policemen and corrupt judges.”

The Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines said killing people is not the answer to illegal drug trafficking and the lack of concern about the bloodshed is disturbing.

“An even greater cause of concern is the indifference of many to this kind of wrong. It is considered as normal, even worse, as something that needs to be done,” the bishops said in a pastoral letter.

“An additional cause of concern is the reign of terror in many places of the poor. Many are killed not because of drugs. Those who kill them are not brought to account.”

In an apparent reference to accusations that many drug pushers and users have been victims of extra-judicial killins, the bishops said, “every person has a right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty”, and the law should be followed.

Duterte’s drugs war: the stats

  • More than 7,600 killed since campaign launched
  • More than 2,500 in shootouts, raids and stings
  • Campaign launched seven months ago

Both the government and police have strenously denied that extrajudicial killings have taken place.

Corruption concerns

The bishop’s letter comes less than a week after Duterte suspended all police operations in the drug crackdown.

He said it was due to “deep-rooted corruption” in the force.

He has put an anti-drugs agency in charge of the campaign and says he wants the military to play a supportive role.

Amnesty International says police involved in Duterte’s war on drugs are behaving like the criminal underworld they are meant to be suppressing.

A recent Amnesty report carries accounts of officers taking payments for killings and the delivery of bodies to funeral homes.

It described the wave of drugs-related killings as “systematic, planned and organised” by authorities and said they could constitute crimes against humanity.

Catholics in the Philippines

Almost 80% of the Philippines’ 100 million people are Catholic.

The majority practice with enthusiasm.

The level of support has historically given the Church significant political and social clout.

However, until now it has been hesitant to criticise the blunt-spoken president’s war on drugs.

Duterte’s relations with Rome

In an interview with the Reuters news agency last year, more than a dozen clergymen said they were uncertain how to take a stand against the killings, given the popular support for the campaign.

Some described challenging Duterte as “fraught with danger.”

The president regularly attacks the Church.

He cursed the Pope for causing traffic jams during a visit in 2015.

He has called for a “showdown” with priests in the last week, accusing them of having wives, engaging in homosexual acts, misusing state funds and molesting children.