Manila, Philippines, Feb 28, 2017 / 17:08 pm
Caught in the throes of a brutal war on drugs, the people of the Philippines are increasingly looking to the Catholic Church to provide refuge and resistance.
Since last summer, more than 7,000 people, usually suspected drug addicts or dealers, have been killed by law enforcement officers in President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal war on drugs. The attacks are often carried out in hit-and-run nighttime shootings by gunmen on motorcycles.
As the death toll mounts, more Catholic leaders and laypeople are taking action.
This week, The Guardian reported that many Catholic priests have been offering their churches as sanctuaries for people on government “kill lists,” or to those who believe they will be targeted. The Catholic Church connects these people to an underground network of people who provide refuge and assistance, such as finding employment.
One priest, Father Gilbert Billena, told The Guardian that at first he favored the war on drugs, and even voted for President Duterte, “but I didn’t expect this outcome,” he said. Now he offers sanctuary to those in danger.
Still, some priests and Catholics have been afraid to speak out or offer assistance, fearing that they will become the next targets. Many Filipinos, the majority of whom are Catholic, also support the drug war, believing that it will make their neighborhoods safer.
Leaders in the Catholic Church have been increasingly outspoken against the violent drug war, calling it a “reign of terror” in a recent pastoral letter that was read at all the Sunday Masses in the country on February 5. The letter, from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, denounced the killings and offered prayers and solidarity to the families of those who have been killed.
Brother Jun Santiago, with the religious order the Redemptorists, has been resisting the drug war in another way. Most nights, when the most brutal attacks of the drug war take place, he is out on the streets with journalists, capturing the scenes on his camera.