CBCP tells lawmen to respect rule of law
Disturbed by the surge of apparent summary killings since Rodrigo Duterte won the presidential election last month on promises to wipe out crimes, the head of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) on Monday appealed to law enforcers not to pursue vigilantism or join any vigilante movements.
In a pastoral letter addressed to authorities, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas lauded their renewed zeal to enforce the law and apprehend criminals but expressed concern over the rising number of reports of vigilante-style killings.
Police said 11 suspected drug dealers were killed when they resisted arrest during operations in Manila and in the provinces of Laguna, Bulacan, Rizal, Bohol and Cebu at the weekend.
Many of those killed in the raids and undercover stings had chosen not to go quietly, they added.
So far, more than 40 drug suspects had been killed since Duterte’s poll victory on May 9, compared with the 39 recorded in the four months before it, according to Chief Supt. Wilben Mayor, spokesperson of the Philippine National Police.
On Sunday, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle gave special prayers urging incoming state officials to avoid a culture of death and reprisal.
Those prayers will be read each day before the new government takes office in the deeply religious, predominantly Catholic Philippines.
Catholic bishops have raised concern over statements attributed to Duterte warning of killings, and by his plan to seek the return of the death penalty by hanging. He has also said some journalists were killed because they were corrupt.
Duterte’s single-issue campaign of tackling illegal drugs and other crimes within six months, and his staunch advocacy of extrajudicial killings, struck a chord with voters.
However, rights groups have rebuked him over concerns that, as President, he would live up to his nickname of “The Punisher.”
“We are disturbed by an increasing number of reports that suspected drug peddlers, pushers and others about whom reports of criminal activity have been received, have been shot, supposedly because they resist arrest,” Villegas said.
“It is equally disturbing that vigilantism seems to be on the rise. Media has carried reports of bodies, apparently of homicide or murder victims, showing up on whom placards announcing their supposed crimes are writ large!” he added.
Duterte takes office on June 30 and has repeatedly reassured policemen they would have his full support if they killed criminals who resisted with violence.
He has also warned that police found to be involved in the drug trade would suffer the same fate.
Speculation has been rife in Manila that some police involved in the illegal drugs trade were clearing the decks before he formally assumes the presidency by eliminating criminals who could implicate them.
However, the incoming PNP chief, Chief Supt. Ronald dela Rosa, said drug peddlers were killed in legitimate operations.
“I would know if these people were killed in rubouts,” he said in a radio interview.
Villegas’ pastoral appeal to law enforcers was issued amid fears raised by the Commission on Human Rights and rights groups that pronouncements on monetary rewards to law enforcers and civilians who would kill or injure criminals might trigger more human rights abuses and summary executions.
Duterte has repeatedly threatened that he would order the killing of drug lords and criminals.
In a speech during his thanksgiving party in Davao City early this month, the President-elect had raised the bounty for killing drug lords from P3 million to P5 million, P2 million as a reward for every slain illegal drug “distributor,” and P50,000 for small-time drug peddlers.
Some local government officials have also offered bounties for the killing or injury of criminals in their cities.
In Mlang, North Cotabato province, incoming Interior Secretary Mike Sueno said a big-time drug lord operating in neighboring South Cotabato province had sent surrender feelers for fear of being killed following the reward system.
Sueno declined to name the drug lord but said the latter’s lawyer relayed his desire to give up two weeks ago.
In Tagbilaran City in Bohol province, police killed a suspected pusher and arrested seven others in a buy-bust operation on Sunday.
The fatality was identified as Rogaciano “Tano” Omus Jr., of Pamaong Extension, Cogon District, Tagbilaran, an alleged peddler of drugs to students and tricycle drivers.
Villegas stressed that it was never morally permissible to receive reward money to kill another, saying that bounty-hunting even if the object of the manhunt was a suspected criminal was no different from a “mercenary” or a “gun-for-hire.”
“We understand the difficulties that law enforcers face, the daily risk to life and limb but not only civil society but also the Church counts on them for the flourishing of a society where all enjoy the blessings of a regime under laws that are just and institutions that are fair,” he said.
The pastoral letter offered law enforcers guidelines that encourage them to uphold morality when going after criminals.
They can only “shoot to kill” solely on the ground of legitimate self-defense or the defense of others, which has been clearly spelled out by law and jurisprudence, Villegas reminded them.
“And for purposes of Catholic morality, it is necessary to emphasize that you, as law enforcers, can ‘shoot to kill’ only first, when there is unjust provocation; second, when there is a real, not only conjectural, threat to your life or to the lives and safety of others…,” he said.
“Third, when there is due proportion between the threat posed and your own use of a firearm aimed at the threatening subject.”
The CBCP official said killing a suspect outright despite extensive surveillance work done on him or her was “not morally justified,” stressing that suspicion was not the moral equivalent of certainty and that punishment may only be meted only on the ground of certainty.
The attempt to stop a suspect from fleeing should be through “nonlethal means” unless his or her escape puts others in harm’s way, the archbishop said.
Villegas exhorted the public to report all forms of vigilantism that they have personal knowledge of as their moral duty as Catholics and Christians.
“For greater reason is it a duty to keep away from any participation and any form of cooperation with vigilantes and vigilante movements,” he added.
Flaws of system
Noting that the impunity that criminals enjoyed reflected the flaws of the country’s criminal justice system, he appealed to the public not to be quick in blaming law enforcers, prosecutors and judges.
“We must all ask ourselves whether or not by our silence, our indifference, or worse, our acts, we may have contributed to the proliferation of crime and the increase in criminal activity,” he said.
He urged prosecutors and judges to remain firm “in their consecration to justice” as “there can be no greater insult to the Creator than to use the gifts of intelligence, discernment and one’s success at legal studies for ends contrary to builds the Body of Christ and contributes the building of the Kingdom of God.” With reports from Williamor A. Magbanua, Inquirer Mindanao, and Leo Udtohan, Inquirer Visayas
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