Thursday, October 13, 2016

Philippines: Priests unsure how to speak out in climate of fear

Priests intimidated by gangsPriests from the Philippines Church, an institution that helped oust two of the country’s leaders in the past, say they are afraid and unsure how to speak out against the war on drugs unleashed by new President Rodrigo Duterte, according to Reuters.

More than a dozen clergymen in Asia’s biggest Catholic nation told Reuters they were uncertain how to take a stand against the thousands of killings in a war that has such overwhelming popular support. Challenging the President’s campaign could be fraught with danger, some said.

Mr Duterte, who had a 76 percent satisfaction rating in a survey released last week, has quashed opposition to his war on drugs and blasted critics in curse-laden language. More than 3600 people, mostly small-time drug users and dealers, have died at the hands of police and suspected vigilantes since he took power on June 30.

Opposing the drug war “in some locations becomes a dangerous job,” said Fr Luciano Felloni, a priest in a northern district of the capital, Manila. At least 30 people, including a child and a pregnant woman, have been killed in his “barangay,” or neighbourhood, where he is setting up community-based rehabilitation for drug users.

“There is a lot of fear because the way people have been killed is vigilante-style so anyone could become a target. There is no way of protecting yourself.”

Another priest, who like several others asked for anonymity because of possible reprisals, said it was risky to question the killings openly. Dozens of drug addicts and pushers are being killed every day, but anyone who criticises Mr Duterte’s campaign could suffer a similar fate, he said.

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the Church was free to make statements, and there was no cause “to even imply” that anyone in the clergy would be targeted.

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