DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 05 November) – Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles will take over as President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) on December 1 with the bloody war on drugs still a major issue confronting the Catholic church and the Duterte administration.
Drug-related killings are “terrible,” Valles said as he urged the public to “inspire the police” and remind them to adhere to the rule of law instead of just condemning them.
“We will not forget the killings – that’s terrible. One side of it is to inspire the police, remind the police to do their work according to the books,” he told reporters at around 3 p.m. Sunday, after his early afternoon mass at the San Pedro Cathedral.
At around the same time, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, outgoing CBCP President, officiated the “Lord Heal Our Land” mass at the EDSA Shrine in Quezon City, attended by various groups including relatives of suspected users and pushers of illegal drugs who fell victim to alleged EJKs.
The mass was followed by a multisectoral gathering at the People Power Monument, to call for an end to EJKs and launch the campaign to pray the rosary daily until the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8. Earlier prayer campaigns to stop EJKs were the ringing of church bells for 40 days and lighting of candles.
The CBCP called on the police and military to stop drug-related killings and adhere to the rule of law.
Stop drugs, stop EJKs
Valles noted that the country did not realize the enormity of the drug problem until the mayor of 22 years here — Rodrigo Duterte – assumed the Presidency on June 30 last year.
According to Valles, the way to address EJKs is to address the problem of illegal drugs itself. He said he believes Sunday’s EDSA event “carries the same message at its core.”
“Stop the killings, start the healing” was among the calls made at the EDSA Shrine.
He described the drug problem as a “complicated and a messy” problem that has destroyed so many lives.
“It’s very sad to (hear about the) killings. Very sad. I’m worried about it. I will also wish to make calculations how many lives have been destroyed by drugs, how many were killed by drugs, how many families were destroyed by drugs. Those are very important questions to me,” he said, noting that “drugs kill” in a silent way.
Various groups have criticized the Duterte administration’s bloody war on drugs, citing 13,000 drug-related killings since Duterte took over as President. But the Philippine National Police on September 29 reported 6,225 drug-related deaths from July 1, 2016 to 6 a.m. of September 16, 2017.
Of this number, 3,850 “died during police operations” referring to Project Double Barrel, while 2,290 were “drug-related deaths” referring to homicide cases under investigation while 85 were police and military killed in action during Project Double Barrel operations.
“Grabe ang drugs. Gigunitan gyud ta ba. (Drug problem is really a serious one. It controls us.) I cannot emphasize it enough,” said Valles, who earlier served as Bishop of Kidapawan and Archbishop of Zamboanga.
Amid escalating criticisms on the alleged abuses by police in the war on drugs, Duterte last month tasked the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) to take over the lead in the anti-illegal drugs campaign, from the Philippine National Police (PNP).
Arriving from his two-day working visit in Japan last October 31, Duterte acknowledged that PDEA lacks personnel to lead the anti-illegal drug operations but added he is still trying to gauge the situation if it would “improve the overall picture of law and order.”
“If what they are saying is true that it can improve the overall picture of law and order without the police, let’s see. If it’s worsened, let us see. I will say let’s petition before Commission on Human Rights what they can do,” he said.
Protect the children
Valles said other members of the community have a role to play in addressing the drug problem and emphasized the need for families to ensure their children are protected from illegal drugs.
“Let’s make sure to keep them away from drugs. For one thing, children are used as couriers. Be careful, children,” he said.
He added that drug syndicates use children as couriers because the pay is lower or they cannot be arrested as they are protected by the law.
“The criminals are really barbaric,” he said.
Valles said the public must not depend all the time on the police as their number is very limited compared to the entire population.
“Our police are very few, but kita daghan ta (we are many). Our families – do not blame others. Together, let us work so our children will be preserved from this present evil – they will catch children by hook or by crook – for the drug trade,” he warned.
Valles said they have been helping rehabilitate drug users “in a very silent way, in the parishes” within the city through “Sagop Kinabuhi” (Save a Life) program of the Archdiocese of Davao.
“They are more comfortable with the parish priests – they are more comfortable perhaps, I would say with church people than police, understandable naman. We have a little advantage over them and therefore we are indirectly helping the government,” he said.
He said they are launching Sagop Kinabuhi in two parishes – GSIS Matina and Toril District – and will be gradually rolling out in other parishes within the city to assist drug users recover from addiction.
But the Archdiocese of Davao is doing this in phases due to lack of experienced personnel, he said.
The Archdiocese is working closely with Catholic schools that provide volunteers to boost the number of personnel who will facilitate the rehabilitation program and the village chiefs for identification of drug users in their barangays, Valles added.
He said they will soon test the 40-day intensive in-house sessions for drug addicts after trying the “out-patient” sessions where they have had about 40 “graduates” in San Pablo Parish, 33 in San Antonio de Padua parish and a still ongoing program at another parish.
“I’m smiling. Dili mi hambugero always pakita nga trabaho (we do not boast or show off our work). Drug kills, and also sometimes, they can be in the higher level of addictions, they will also kill and rob,” he said.
Valles has been Archbishop of this city since May 2012.
Duterte visited Valles in early December 2015 after he was heavily criticized for cursing the Pope in an expletive-filled speech when he was formally declared as the standard-bearer of the PDP-Laban. He apologized for doing so and vowed not to mouth expletives again, even promising to donate 1,000 pesos to Caritas Davao each time he swears.
Early last year, while still mayor and Presidential candidate, Duterte formally sent a letter of apology to Pope Francis through the Davao Archbishop. The Pope accepted Duterte’s apology. (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)