One might not think a moral authority would have to say this out loud, but in the Philippines, Catholic bishops find themselves forced to point out that public authorities actually putting a bounty on the heads of accused, not convicted, criminals, is probably an abuse of power.
New President Rodrigo Duterte hasn’t yet begun his term, but the Catholic Church is already voicing opposition to many of his ideas for fighting crime, including bringing back the death penalty and allowing law enforcers to shoot criminals if they resist arrest.
Duterte, who’s known for having a rocky relationship with the Church, including voicing frustration with traffic gridlock created by the pontiff’s January 2015 visit to Manila by calling the pope a “son of a whore,” easily won the election in the profoundly Catholic country last May in large part because of his legacy as the tough-on-crime mayor of Davao City.
However, bishops across the country are raising their voices to put an end to extrajudicial killings encouraged by the new president.
According to Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, “God never gave up on us. We have no right giving up on ourselves or on our brothers and sisters.”
“Let no one ever raise his hand against his brother or sister, for the blood that is shed – even if it be the blood of one we suspect of crime – cries to heaven for justice!” he added.
According to Villegas, president of the Philippine’s Bishops’s Conference, he’s not the only one “disturbed” by the fact that more and more suspected drug dealers and criminals have been shot “supposedly because they resist arrest.”
The bishops have also released a statement saying that “shoot to kill” is only justified when it’s in legitimate self-defense or in defense of others, saying that for the purposes of Catholic morality, law enforcers can only do so when there’s “unjust provocation” or a real, not conjectural, threat to their lives.
“To kill a suspect outright, no matter how much surveillance work may have been done on the suspect, is not morally justified,” they wrote. “Suspicion is never the moral equivalent of certainty, and punishment may be inflicted only on the grounds of certainty.”
The statement also addressed a rising tendency of local governments offering rewards for killing criminals, saying that it’s “never morally permissible to receive reward money to kill another” person and that those who kill suspected offenders for a reward are no different from a “mercenary, a gun-for-hire.”
Tomas Osmena, incoming mayor of central Cebu, has promised policemen a 50,000 pesos (US$1,060) reward for each criminal they kill, and 5,000 pesos for each one they wound.
According to the French Press Agency, Osmenda said that “If you kill a criminal in the line of duty, (you’ll be rewarded), no questions asked. I’m there to assist the police, not to prosecute them.”
Several Filipino bishops have also raised their concerns over Duterte’s intention of restoring the death penalty, with hanging as his preferred method of execution. Yet the Catholic hierarchy has vowed to oppose the measure if such a bill is presented to parliament.
Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga, for instance, recalled that “God alone has power over life. God gives life and God takes it away. No one should play God,” calling instead for a reform of the country’s judicial and prison system.
During the presidential campaign, Duterte vowed to wipe out crime within six months by unleashing security forces with shoot-to-kill orders. He even said that 100,000 criminals would die in this crackdown and that he was going to feed their bodies to the fish by dumping them in Manila Bay.
On June 14, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila asked every parish in the country to say a prayer for the newly elected public officials that will assume office on June 30, including Duterte.
The prayer, to be said for the nine days, calls for God to bless politicians with “true love for the poor and godly humility” and also with “true reverence for human life and unyielding opposition to the culture of death.”