Church versus extrajudicial killings


As the bloody campaign against illegal drugs and crime continues under the present administration, the Church in the Philippines is addressing the mounting mortality by establishing community-based drug rehabilitation programs as a form of compassionate care and systematic intervention in order to reduce those who are being killed.




Not since the Marcos dictatorship has human life in the Philippines been so gravely under threat from government policy. Since June 30, 2016, a bloody campaign against drugs and crime, urged on by President Rodrigo Duterte, has wiped out thousands of lives, mostly of the poor. Almost every night in major urban centers, drug suspects are slain in the streets or in their homes, sometimes along with innocent bystanders, friends, or family members. The Philippine National Police (PNP) has claimed responsibility for more than three thousand of these killings. Even more have been committed by unknown assailants posing as anti-crime vigilantes.

Bishop Pablo Virgilio S. David, the incoming vice-president of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), heart-stricken by the mounting mortality in his Diocese of Caloocan, which he calls “the killing fields of the country,” was one of the first Catholic bishops to denounce the violence.

The Church is at pains in addressing the continuing slaughter of drug suspects. One reason is that the policy is not implemented through legislation but through internal action or inaction on the part of the PNP, and through signals sent to the police, and possibly to self-styled vigilantes, by the PNP leadership and the president.

Another difficulty is that much of the killing is perpetrated by “unknown assailants” whose links to the state cannot be easily established. In the absence of undeniable evidence of this link, all that can be asked of the PNP is to reduce the number of suspects killed in its own operations and to press for more efficient investigation of the “deaths under investigation” (DUIs).


Ministering to the victims
The Church’s most systematic intervention to date has been the establishment of community-based drug rehabilitation programs, viewed not only as a form of compassionate pastoral care, but also as a way of reducing the numbers killed. Three dioceses have launched such programs: the Salubong Program in the Diocese of Caloocan; Abot-Kamay Alang-Alang sa Pagbabago (AKAP) in the Diocese of Novaliches; and the Sanlakbay Program in the Archdiocese of Manila.

Each program draws upon the expertise of professional psychologists and counsellors, including the Psychological Association of the Philippines (PAP), the Center for Family Ministries (CEFAM) of the Society of Jesus and the psychology departments of Catholic schools such as Miriam College, De La Salle University, and the Ateneo de Manila.

Each uses Church volunteers and involves others in the community in various program components, including representatives of other faiths.

A typical rehabilitation program has three components: patient care, family care, and community care. Patient care is directed toward healing the individual drug user and equipping him or her with life and livelihood skills. Family care includes counselling for families of drug users, food subsidies while they attend the programs, subsidies for the children’s education, and livelihood training. Community care tries to organize and strengthen the community against the drug trade, in collaboration with the local government unit (LGU) and the police.

Fr. Antonio Labiao, Vicar-General of the Diocese of Novaliches, is convinced that such rehabilitation programs can reduce the number of deaths in police or other operations.


Culture of human rights
A second kind of preventive intervention that the Church has initiated hopes to strengthen the defense and the culture of human rights. Bishop David is working for the establishment of human rights councils for the cities of his diocese, with the help of Loretta Ann Rosales, who formerly chaired the Commission on Human Rights. He envisions the councils as platforms for rights education and as clearing houses for reports on rights violations, and as venues for the collaboration of LGU representatives, human rights organizations, other civil society organizations and religious groups.

The Archdiocese of Manila’s Public Affairs Ministry is working with the Commission on Human Rights on an education program for schools, parishes, and urban poor organizations, including the production of videos on various aspects of human rights. The Ministry’s director, Fr. Atilano G. Fajardo, is quick to point out that the problem is not with people unaware of their rights, but with human rights violators.


Support to the families
The Church is also supporting families of the slain – or as Fr. Labiao calls them, “orphaned families.” Bishop Pabillo points out that with thousands killed, there must be tens of thousands of the bereaved. Their needs are numerous: for trauma debriefing and counselling, funeral expenses, food and other basic expenses, livelihood, scholarships and school expenses for orphaned children, legal aid if they wish to file cases, sanctuary and resettlement when threatened by the killers or fearful they will be “next.”

Among the first Catholics to respond to the needs of orphaned families were the Redemptorist priests of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Baclaran, in the Diocese of Parañaque. The Redemptorists raised a large fund to help with funeral expenses. It was quickly exhausted. They have created occasional income opportunities for family members who participate in the development and maintenance of a public exhibit on the killings. The Redemptorists are partners of RiseUp, an ecumenical network which provides counselling, material assistance, and sanctuary for families and fugitives. Holy Eucharist-Mass Action (HEMA), a lay-initiated group, extends financial help to the families.

The Diocese of Novaliches offers counselling, livelihood training, and money for schooling and clothes. Caritas Manila, the social action arm of the Archdiocese of Manila, has dedicated part of its funding to help orphaned families.


Prayer for the dead
A fourth intervention is the prayerful or liturgical commemoration of the dead. This commemoration aims not only to give comfort to the families but also to keep alive public awareness of the killings, to cultivate compassion for the victims and their families, and to send the message that the killings are not exempt from moral judgment. Perhaps the first of these was a Mass on July 25, 2016, coinciding with President Duterte’s first State of the Nation Address and organized by the Public Affairs Ministry of the Archdiocese of Manila at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Adamson University. The Mass, celebrated by Bishop Pabillo and by Fr. Fajardo, was well attended by representatives of religious congregations, students of religious-run schools, and individual Catholics. Orphaned families had also been invited, but were too frightened then to go public.

More successful at gathering the orphaned families was a Mass organized by HEMA at Our Lady of Victory Church in Malabon on February 2. Although the presider was Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez, emeritus of Caloocan, it was the bereaved who spoke during the time for the homily, telling their stories to an audience of human rights advocates, religious, and other concerned Catholics. This was followed by a Mass on March 2 at the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Baclaran, and another on April 2 at Sto. Niño Church in Barangay Bagong Silang in Novaliches, where at that time the death toll had hit 250.

Bishop Antonio Tobias of the Diocese of Novaliches presided over that Mass and delivered a moving homily on the raising of Lazarus. The next day the bishop went to the police station to confront the police. For weeks after that, says Fr. Sarabia, no one was killed. HEMA plans to hold memorial Masses with the bereaved families on the second of each month, with a Mass on November 2, All Souls Day.


Documenting the killings
A fifth intervention is advocacy. The Redemptorists of Baclaran have set up a memorial exhibit to the killings at their well attended Church, reminding their millions of devotees that true faith demands compassion, denunciation, and action. Churches all over the Archdiocese of Manila and in other places have put up tarpaulins reminding the faithful that Huwag kang papatay (Thou shalt not kill) has not been stricken from the Ten Commandments.

A final intervention is an investment in the nation’s future. At least one diocese is systematically documenting the killings. The documentation will serve as a dossier which can be eventually used to measure the extent of the slaughter, to file cases against the perpetrators, and to hold those responsible to account.

Catholics who are fighting the Duterte administration’s anti-life solutions to crime may be a minority now, but they are a powerful minority. Their power comes from moral clarity and compassion, from the support of bishops, from their occupation of strategic institutional spaces in the Church, and from their capacity to work with secular groups to advocate for life and to aid the bereaved. But most of all their power comes from a loving God Who has given life as a sacred gift to all.

Share Your Thoughts

All comments are moderated

From The Same Issue

The articles and content about this issue

From The Same Issue

The articles and content about this issue

From This Topic

The articles and content about this topic

From This Topic

The articles and content about this topic

Explore Other Topics

Browse other coverage

Explore Other Topics

Browse other coverage


Presents, discusses and draws readers to reflect on issues of outmost relevance to the world today.


Very often, mission is carried out in frontier situations around the world. Those who embrace these situations have much to share.


Writer Ilsa Reyes will be exploring the richness of Pope Francis’s latest encyclical Fratelli Tutti with a view of helping our readers to get a grasp of the this beautiful papal document.


Puts to the front committed and inspiring people around the world who embrace humanitarian and religious causes with altruism and passion.


Focus on a given theme of interest touching upon social, economic and religious issues.


As the Philippines prepares to celebrate 500 years of the arrival of Christianity. Fr. James Kroeger leads us in this series into a discovery journey of the landmark events in the history of faith in the Philippine archipelago.


Aims to nurture and inspire our hearts and minds while pondering upon timely themes.


The large archipelago of the Philippines, in its richness of peoples and cultures, offers varied and challenging situations for mission.


Reflections and vocation stories that shape up the lives of young people.


As humor and goodness of heart are qualities of Christian and missionary life, the new column “Mission is fun” will be publishing some anecdotes and stories that have happened in a missionary context to lighten up the spirits and trigger a smile in our faces.


To help readers of World Mission live this year dedicated to Ecumenism, Interreligious Dialogue and Indigenous Peoples, Tita Puangco, writer and lecturer, shares in this section insights on the spirituality of communion.


A historic view of the Catholic movements that emerged from the grassroots as an inspiration by the Holy Spirit.


On the Year of Ecumenism, Interreligious Dialogue and Indigenous Peoples, radio host and communicator Ilsa Reyes, in her monthly column, encourages Christians and people of good will to be one with their fellow people of other sects, religions and tribes.


Questions to a personality of the Church or secular world on matters of interest that touch upon the lives of people.


News from the Church, the missionary world and environment that inform and form the consciences.


A feature on environmental issues that are affecting the whole world with the view of raising awareness and prompting action.


The editor gives his personal take on a given topic related to the life of the Church, the society or the world.


A monthly column on themes touching the lives of young people in the Year of the Youth in the Philippines by radio host and communicator I lsa Reyes.


A missionary living in the Chinese world shares his life-experiences made up of challenges and joyous encounters with common people.


Life stories of people who deserve to be known for who they were, what they did and what they stood for in their journey on earth.


Stories of people whom a missionary met in his life and who were touched by Jesus in mysterious ways.


Critical reflection from a Christian perspective on current issues.


Comboni missionary Fr. Lorenzo Carraro makes a journey through history pinpointing landmark events that changed the course of humanity.


A biographical sketch of a public person, known for his/her influence in the society and in the Church, showing an exemplary commitment to the service of others.


Gives fresh, truthful, and comprehensive information on issues that are of concern to all.


A column aimed at helping the readers live their Christian mission by focusing on what is essential in life and what it entails.


Peoples, events, religion, culture and the society of Asia in focus.


The human heart always searches for greatness in God’s eyes, treading the path to the fullness of life - no matter what it takes.


The subcontinent of India with its richness and variety of cultures and religions is given center stage.


The African continent in focus where Christianity is growing the fastest in the world.


Well-known writer and public speaker, Fr. Jerry Orbos, accompanies our journey of life and faith with moments of wit and inspiration based on the biblical and human wisdom.


On the year dedicated to St. Ignatius of Loyala, Fr. Lorenzo Carraro walks us through the main themes of the Ignatian spirituality.


Fr. John Taneburgo helps us to meditate every month on each of the Seven Last Words that Jesus uttered from the cross.


In this section, Fr. Lorenzo delves into the secrets and depths of the Sacred Scriptures opening for us the treasures of the Sacred Book so that the reader may delight in the knowledge of the Word of God.


Reflections about the synodal journey on a conversational and informal style to trigger reflection and sharing about the synodal path the Church has embarked upon.

Shopping Cart