04 January 2017, The Tablet

Asia’s new killing fields: Is the Church doing enough to stop the extrajudicial deaths?


Some 6,000 people, including children, have died in the first six months of the president’s merciless war on drugs. Is the Church doing enough to stop the extrajudicial killings?

The church of the Immaculate Conception in Guiuan, in the eastern Philippines, stands out among the little shacks and huts of the seaside village. Partially destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan three years ago, its baroque white walls and crypts somehow survived the 235mph winds. Now reconstructed, the main entrance in its ornate facade was designated a Holy Door during the Jubilee Year of Mercy – like the doors of many other churches in the Philippines that survived the storm that killed more than 6,000 people.

Yet, in the same year that the Church reached out in mercy, the same number of people, some 6,000 – including children – were caught in the crossfire of President Rodrigo Duterte’s merciless war on drugs. In a recent interview, in which he referred to the death of children as “collateral damage”, he also pledged: “I’ll be very frank with you, until the last drug lord is killed, this campaign will continue until the very last day of my term.”

Elected by a landslide majority in June last year, the former Mayor of Davao City, known as “the Punisher”, won the heart of the country’s poor, to the confusion of international commentators. Despite admitting that he used to ride around Davao on a motorcycle, gunning down criminals, the most recent Social Weather Survey found that 85 per cent of the population felt satisfied with his presidency. This was despite the fact that 78 per cent of the respondents also admitted they were worried that they, or someone they knew, would fall victim to an “extra judicial killing”, the vigilante murders of alleged drug users and pushers mandated by Duterte.

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