The the war on drugs unleashed by the Philippines new president Rodrigo Duterte, has left many of the country’s citizens in fear, not knowing who the next victim would be.
President Rodrigo Duterte has favorably compared his crackdown on drugs to “Hitler’s holocaust,” the death toll reaching more than 3,700 in less than three months.
Duterte, elected in July, promised he would fight poverty and corruption by tackling crime, pledging to kill 100,000 drug users in six months, The Washington Post reports.
His killing campaign has overwhelming popular support. Duterte recently received a 76 percent satisfaction rating. But Catholic priests from the Philippines Church say the war on drugs has gotten out of hand.
Opposing the drug war “in some locations becomes a dangerous job,” said Father Luciano Felloni, a priest in a northern district of the capital, Manila.
At least 30 people, including a child and a pregnant woman, have been killed in his neighborhood, where he is setting up community-based rehabilitation for drug users, according to Reuters.
“There is a lot of fear because the way people have been killed is vigilante style so anyone could become a target … There is no way of protecting yourself,” he said.
Another priest told Reuters that dozens of drug addicts and pushers are being killed every day, anyone who criticizes Duterte’s campaign could suffer the same fate.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the Church was free to make statements and there was no cause “to even imply” that anyone in the clergy would be targeted.
However Abella added, “The Church needs to consider that recent surveys show the people trust and appreciate the president’s efforts and it would do well to take heed and not presume that the people share their belief system.”
Duterte said Monday he has no intention of stopping his campaign because if he does, the next generation will be lost.
“I’m really appalled by so many groups and individuals, including priests and bishops, complaining about the number of persons killed in the operation against drugs,” he said in a speech in the southern city of Zamboanga.
The Church in the Philippines has, in the past, carried significant political clout, helping oust two of the country’s leaders in the past.
Now, the Filipino people appear to be sending the Church a message to back-off.
“We voted for our president because he promised to stop drugs,” Jenny Calma, a 34 year-old mother of two, said.
“The Church will lose” if it takes on Duterte over the killings, she added. “The feeling, the atmosphere in the community – sometimes the Church understands, sometimes it doesn’t.”
Still, some clergy members refuse to stand by as the killing campaign moves forward.
Retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz told Reuters that in some cases clergy members are providing shelter to those looking to flee the campaign.
“There are cases where asylum is being sought and given, which are not brought to the attention of media… especially during these times when life is cheap and summary execution is a way of living, and extra-judicial killing is a matter of course,” Cruz said.
The Vatican says it is following the situation in the Philippines closely but plans to leave it to the national bishops’ conference to make a position on the internal matters known to governments.