Philippine Church in 'show of force' vs drug killings

2017-02-18 10:01
Thousands of Roman Catholics sing religious songs following a ‘Walk for Life’ march around Manila's Rizal Park to oppose the revival of the death penalty by the Philippine Congress. (Bullit Marquez, AP)

Thousands of Roman Catholics sing religious songs following a ‘Walk for Life’ march around Manila's Rizal Park to oppose the revival of the death penalty by the Philippine Congress. (Bullit Marquez, AP)

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Manila - Thousands of Catholic faithful gathered in the Philippine capital on Saturday in a "show of force" to stop extrajudicial killings in President Rodrigo Duterte's drug war.

More than 6 000 people have died since Duterte took office seven months ago and ordered an unprecedented crime war that has drawn global criticism for alleged human rights abuses, but is popular with many in the mainly Catholic nation.

In the biggest rally yet against the killings, members of one of the nation's oldest and most powerful institutions chanted prayers and sang hymns as they marched to condemn a "spreading culture of violence".

"We have to stand up. Somehow this is already a show of force by the faithful that they don't like these extrajudicial killings," said Manila bishop Broderick Pabillo before addressing the crowd.

"I am alarmed and angry at what's happening because this is something that is regressive. It does not show our humanity."

Church attacks

Duterte, 71, has attacked the Church as being "full of shit" and "the most hypocritical institution" for speaking out against a campaign that he says would save generations of Filipinos from the drug menace.

About eight in 10 Filipinos are Catholic, making the former Spanish colony of more than 100 million people Asia's bastion of Christianity.

The Church helped lead the revolution that toppled dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 and a 2001 uprising against then-president Joseph Estrada that saw him ousted over corruption charges.

The Church had initially declined to voice opposition publicly to Duterte's drug war but, as the death toll of mostly poor people mounted, it began late in 2016 to call for the killings to end.

Saturday's event, called the "Walk for Life", gathered 20 000 people, according to the organisers. Manila police estimated the crowd at 10 000.

"It is obvious that there is a spreading culture of violence. It is saddening to see, sometimes it drives me to tears how violent words seem so natural and ordinary," said Manila Cardinal Luis Tagle, the country's highest-ranking Church official.

"In your surroundings, in your neighbourhood, there are so many lives that must be saved. They will not be saved by mere discussion."

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines had called on the faithful to gather at the Quirino Grandstand, where Duterte held a huge pre-election rally, from 04:30.

"Why dawn? It's because it is during these hours that we find bodies on the streets or near trash cans. Dawn, which is supposed to be the hour of a new start, is becoming an hour of tears and fears," Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the bishops' conference, told the crowd.

Read more on:    rodrigo duterte  |  philippines

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