CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 9 September 2017

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Innocent children fall to the guilty guns of justice

The president of The Philippines is touting the success of his campaign against suspected drug dealers and drug users, but the killing of a 17-year-old grade 11 student, Kian Loyd delos Santos, in an anti-drug operation in mid-August, during which as many as 94 people were shot dead by police, is just one too many.
 
The police claim that all the dead, including the boy, resisted arrest and fought back. However, eyewitnesses tell a different story and CCTV footage of the incident shows that the boy was first dragged and then shot in the back.
 
Whatever the truth of it is, the evidence that these 94 people were all drug dealers and had resisted arrest is woefully lacking. 
 
Many in The Philippines are shocked at the news that as many as 31 minors have been shot dead during the past 12 months of the president’s campaign.
 
The tough-talking and much feared president strengthened his determination to pursue his self-proclaimed war on drugs saying it would continue relentlessly. He warned drug pushers that they will face either jail or hell.
 
“Illegal drugs are the root cause of much evil and so much suffering that weaken the social fabric and deters foreign investment from pouring in,” he said.
 
Bishop Pablo Virgilio David spoke out against the raids and condemned the killing of delos Santos. “This is one very specific case where an innocent individual, who happens to be just a boy, a grade 11 student, you snuff out the future of a child,” he told Rappler.com on August 18.
 
“That really crushes my heart as bishop. I cannot possibly keep quiet about this,” Bishop David said. He has been one of the most outspoken bishops against the extrajudicial killings.
 
The targeting of children is not unusual. The authorities look down upon them. Their move to change the juvenile justice and welfare law and reduce the minimum age of criminal liability to nine-years-old is still pending in the congress.
 
In a speech to the Boy Scouts, the president said children in conflict with the law have criminal minds.
 
Without evidence against the suspects, they are listed by local officials and are judged guilty and arrested, jailed and even executed.
 
However, the president praised the big success of the mid-August operation glorying in the over 90 fatalities.
 
The rule of law and due process is ignored and for many Filipinos of conscience, these are extrajudicial killings. The police vigorously deny it. Some commentators say that as many as 12,000 suspects have died in this purge, victims of either police or their hired vigilantes.
 
There is some evidence to show that the vigilantes are police in disguise and they are paid a bonus for every killing. While this cannot be confirmed, the funeral parlors where the bodies are brought pay the police to bring them more bodies.
 
The families of the victims have to borrow heavily to pay for the expensive funerals. A report by Reuters on June 29 revealed that some police bring the dead bodies to hospitals as part of a cover up.
 
The amazing thing is that for a so-called Catholic country that is The Philippines, surveys show the tough talking president has approval ratings as high as 82 per cent.
 
However, some claim many Filipinos tell the survey they approve of him out of fear. The president, who apparently enjoys wide popularity, said he would kill human rights advocates as well, just to show them what human rights violations are.
 
Like many of his comments, this left his spin doctors scrambling to explain how he did not mean it. Still many think he did.
 
Archbishop Socrates Villegas, the former president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, ordered Church bells in his diocese be rung for 15 minutes every day for three months in protest against the killings.
 
He said that this is necessary to arouse the people who have become cowards in expressing anger against evil.
 
“The sounding of the bells is a call to stop approval of the killings,” Archbishop Villegas said in a statement read in all churches in his archdiocese.
 
“The country is in chaos. The officer who kills is rewarded and the slain get the blame. The corpses can no longer defend themselves from accusations that they fought back,” he said. “Why are we no longer horrified by the sound of the gun and blood flowing on the sidewalks? Why is nobody raging against drugs that were brought in from China?” the archbishop asked, referring to the huge shipment that passed through the wharves of Manila under the careful watch of customs officials appointed by the president.
 
And so it is that the voices of the outspoken, vocal bishops are being heard. In Caloocan City, Bishop David organised a walk for peace.
 
In Manila, Luis Cardinal Tagle issued a pastoral letter that did not condemn the killings, but said, “We knock on the consciences of those who kill even the helpless, especially those who cover their faces with bonnets, to stop wasting human lives.”
 
This is a time for people of conscience to know and speak the truth, to be prophetic, to proclaim the value of every life, to stand for the truth, justice, human dignity, due process and the rule of law.
 
Otherwise, no one will be protected and no one will be safe from home invasion and the arbitrary bullets fired at innocent people.
 

Father Shay Cullen