THE PHILIPPINES
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Rodrigo Duterte

‘Priests should take shabu to understand’: Rodrigo Duterte dismisses Catholic objections to drug war

After largely keeping quiet over the drug war for months, church leaders are now leading a campaign to have their flock denounce the killings

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 January, 2017, 8:40pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 January, 2017, 8:55pm

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday taunted the country’s Catholic priests and bishops to take highly addictive crystal methamphetamine, as he accused them of “hypocrisy” for criticising his deadly drug war.

Duterte launched his broadside in response to the powerful Catholic Church mounting a campaign to stop the killings in his anti-drugs drive, which has claimed about 6,000 lives in less than seven months.

Duterte said that while parish priests around the country were well aware of the extent of the illegal drug problem, their leaders who had been railing about “extrajudicial killings” were clueless.

The [critical] priests should take shabu to understand. I recommend one or two of the bishops take it also
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte

“The [critical] priests should take shabu to understand. I recommend one or two of the bishops take it also,” Duterte said, using the local term for crystal meth, the country’s most-used illegal drug.

Duterte, who has previously boasted about keeping multiple mistresses, also sought to discredit church leaders by accusing them of violating their own vows of celibacy.

“We’re the same, with two, three wives. Don’t get me started – all the hypocrisy,” said Duterte, 71.

Duterte also accused the country’s church leaders of plotting to “suppress” the public exhibition of an unspecified film that he said tackled the subject of “homosexuality of priests”.

“I’m telling them: ‘Why stop it? When you expose the frailties of your faithful, you are free to shout in the pulpit’,” he said. “But you exempt yourselves. What is this?’”

Duterte spoke at length to defend his anti-drugs campaign during a visit to a hospital in the northern Philippines that was aired on television.

Duterte was elected in a landslide last year, after vowing on the campaign trail to eradicate illegal drugs in society by killing tens of thousands of people. Police have reported killing 2,250 drug suspects since Duterte assumed office, with 3,710 other people murdered by unknown suspects.

Independent surveys show Duterte remains hugely popular with many Filipinos who are hoping his strongman style will fix the country’s crime and corruption woes.

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After largely keeping quiet over the drug war for months, church leaders are now leading a campaign to have their flock denounce the killings.

“The church right now is asserting its influence, that’s why in the coming months the church will be at the forefront in leading against extrajudicial killings,” said Jerome Secillano, public affairs chief for the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.

“[The drug war] is not any more in accord with the legal processes, and the moral norms are being violated and so now is the time for the church to speak up.”

Church leaders said they initially wanted to give Duterte a chance to implement his programmes and make the Philippines a safer place. They had also hoped to influence him quietly. Some priests and bishops, like ordinary people, were too scared to speak out, according to Secillano.

[The drug war] is not any more in accord with the legal processes, and the moral norms are being violated
Jerome Secillano, Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines

“Not too many churches and people are actually keen on speaking up against these killings because of fear,” he said.

To start the pushback, Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the bishops conference, issued a pastoral letter to his flock in October.

“I am ashamed of the things I read about the Philippines in the international media and more ashamed of what I hear from our leaders,” Villegas said at the time. “I can no longer give a word of condolence to the bereaved families because I also need to be assured even a bit that things will get better and not become worse.”

Over the coming weeks, the church also plans to train widows and other female relatives of men killed in mainly slum communities to document the deaths so they can bring criminal charges against police.

“When you speak to people on the ground, there is a lot of fear,” Manila bishop Broderick Pabillo said. “Many people, especially the urban poor, feel that anybody can be tagged and killed.”

About 80 per cent of Filipinos are Catholic, a legacy of the Philippines being a former Spanish colony.

The church played a key role in the ouster of dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 and corruption-tainted president Joseph Estrada in 2001.

Church leaders are at pains to emphasise they have not given up on Duterte and they are not campaigning against his rule, just the killings.