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Philippine bishop not cowed by threats

MANILA (UCAN): Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan, Metro Manila, the Philippines, who has received death threats for criticising the Rodrigo Duterte’s government’s bloody narcotics crackdown, said while he fears for his safety, he “fears more for children and the poor victims of this drug war” and vowed to continue speaking out against it.
 
He said the poor have become the most “vulnerable” in the illegal drug trade because of their “desperation and hopelessness” and that the government’s “war against illegal drugs” has become “immoral and unthinkable and so desperate,” the vice president of the bishops’ conference, said.
 
The bishop pointed out that the campaign would have been more successful had enforcers respected the provisions of law that guarantee respect for human rights.
 
Early in his presidency in 2016, Duterte promised to put an end to illegal drugs within three to six months.
 
After three years, the war on drugs has resulted in the killing of up to 20,000 suspected drug users and peddlers, according to rights groups.
 
Bishop David said he will continue working with local officials in his diocese to help community-based rehabilitation of drug addicts.
 
“We’re not anti-government, we have found a lot of good people in the local government,” the bishop said.
 
However, he lamented that even volunteers in his partnership with the local anti-narcotics council have received death threats.
 
In late February, rights groups honoured Bishop David with the Ka Pepe Diokno Human Rights Award, for his defense of the rights of the poor. 
 
The award is named after the late senator, secretary for justice, founding chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights and founder of the Free Legal Assistance Group, Jose Wright Diokno. 
 
In a message read during the ceremony, the bishop asked for forgiveness for not attending.
 
“Well-meaning friends who worry for my personal safety had advised me not to take these threats to my person lightly,” the message from the bishop read.
 
He said he did not want to “unnecessarily endanger the lives of those who would accompany” him to the event.
 
On February 25, Duterte warned against harming religious leaders.
 
However Bishop David said threats are “part of the hazards” of being a priest and a bishop.
 
“Witnessing to the gospel, witnessing to the truth, is something that can cost you your life,” he said.

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