SHORTLY after his election last May 9, President Duterte figured in an exchange of words with some leaders of the Catholic Church, calling it a hypocritical institution and accusing some bishops and priests of hypocrisy and corruption. It was then that Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), said he would invoke “the silence of Jesus before the arrogance of Pilate.”
Philippine Church leaders have largely followed that policy in the last few months, but some of them have lately been expressing concerns over ongoing events, notably the anti-drugs campaign in which over 3,700 people have already been killed.
Several clergymen interviewed by an international news service spoke out against what they called extra-judicial killings. Some disclosed they have been providing shelter to some people trying to escape the killing. Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, in one interview, said he fears there will be worsening relations between the Church and President Duterte.
The Vatican’s Secretariat of State is said to be following the situation in the Philippines but would leave it to the national bishops’ conference to take a position on the matter. A policy that it follows in all countries with regards to internal matters. In the Philippines, that national bishops’ conference would be the CBCP, whose president, Archbishop Villegas, said last June that it would be following a policy of silence – for now.
Last August 5, Archbishop Villegas posted a statement on the website of the Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan lamenting the killings and appealed to the Filipinos’ sense of humanity. He issued the statement not as CBCP president but as Lingayan-Dagupan archbishop. It was read in all churches in the archdiocese.
Last September 15, after two and a half months of the administration, with some 3,000 already killed, in the anti-drugs campaign, along with 26,000 arrested and some 730,000 surrendered, the CBCP issued a statement calling on law enforcers to respect human rights. “Drug addicts are children of God equal in dignity with the sober ones. Drug addicts are sick brethren in need of healing, deserving of new life. They are patients begging for recovery.”
There is no condemnation, only an appeal. There is no criticism such as those made by the United Nations, the European Union, and the United States. But it looks like the CBCP is no longer content to keep its silence. It will add its voice to those who are beginning to speak out.