Church bells to ring in protest against Philippine drug killings

Anger over president Duterte's campaign mounts after more than 80 were killed in just three days

Loved ones of Leover Miranda, 39, a drug-related killings victim, pray in front of the coffin before a funeral march at the north cemetery in metro Manila, Philippines August 20, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco
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A Philippine Catholic official has ordered churches in his northern district to ring their bells every night for three months to raise alarm over a sharp spike in police killings of drug suspects, adding to a growing outcry over president Rodrigo Duterte's bloody crackdown.

Archbishop Socrates Villegas said church bells would toll for 15 minutes nightly across his religious district from Tuesday to November 27 to rouse a citizenry "which has become a coward in expressing anger against evil." The start and end of the protest mark days of Catholic veneration.

The move comes after more than 80 drug and crime suspects were gunned down by police in metropolitan Manila and nearby Bulacan province in just three days last week, the bloodiest few days since Mr Duterte's crackdown began in July last year.

"The sounding of the bells is a call to stop approval of the killings," archbishop Villegas, who also heads an influential bloc of Filipino Catholic bishops, said in a statement read out on Sunday in churches in his district in Pangasinan province. "The country is in chaos. The officer who kills is rewarded and the slain get the blame. The corpses could no longer defend themselves from accusations that they 'fought back.'

"Why are we no longer horrified by the sound of the gun and blood flowing on the sidewalks? Why is nobody raging against drugs that were brought in from China?" he asked, referring to a huge drugs shipment that managed to pass through Manila's ports under the watch of customs officials appointed by Duterte.

Without naming the president, the archbishop criticised Mr Duterte's praises for police killings of 32 drug suspects in just a night of raids across Bulacan province last week and how his supporters applauded in response.

In a separate statement read in Manila churches, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle offered to host a dialogue on the drug problem among government and police officials, along with families of victims, nongovernment groups and medical experts.


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Anger and protests have focused on the killing last week of a teenager, Kian Lloyd delos Santos, who police say was a drug dealer who opened fire with a pistol during a raid, prompting officers to shoot him. The family of the slain 17-year-old student say he was shot by police as he was pleading for his life.

Police said the student attempted to escape during a raid that sparked a chase on Wednesday night in suburban Caloocan city in Manila metropolis. The student's parents and some neighbors denied the police claim, pointing to security camera footage that showed a man, who they said was delos Santos, being held by both arms and dragged away from his home shortly before he was shot nearby.

Vice president Leni Robredo condemned the killing and visited the wake of the slain student on Sunday, accompanied by a volunteer lawyer who she said may be able to help the victim's family attain justice. She said the country had a big drug problem, but the solution should not trample on human rights and victimise the innocent.

Amid the outcry, police officials removed three police officers involved in the killing of delos Santos, along with their commander, and ordered an investigation.

Senators allied with Mr Duterte scheduled a meeting on Sunday to discuss a possible investigation of the most recent killings. In radio interviews, two of them warned the police not to abuse Mr Duterte's strong backing of law enforcers in his anti-drug campaign.

"Legitimate police operations are okay, but summary executions have no place in our society because they're barbaric acts," said senator Joseph Victor Ejercito. "They should not go overboard."

More than 3,200 drug suspects have been gunned down by police since Mr Duterte launched his crackdown. More than 2,000 others have died in drug-related killings, including attacks by motorcycle-riding masked gunmen, who human rights groups allege are policemen in disguise or their civilian hit men.

Human rights groups have said the death tolls are higher.

Mr Duterte has said he erred in his initial estimate that the drug menace could be ended in three to six months and now says it would be difficult to have the problem under control during his six-year term. The crackdown will not stop under his watch, he said.