Bishop’s appeal to stop summary killings falls on ‘deaf ears’

Bishop’s appeal to stop summary killings falls on ‘deaf ears’
Bishop Joel Baylon of Legazpi. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE DIOCESE OF LEGAZPI

MANILA— A Catholic bishop expressed dismay over President Rodrigo Duterte’s supposed failure to put a halt to the spate of drug-related killings in the country.

Bishop Joey Baylon of Legazpi said their appeal fell on ‘deaf ears’ as killings continue and justice remains elusive for the victims of summary executions.

Almost a year ago, the diocese sent an open letter to Duterte, asking him to stop extrajudicial killings and bring the perpetrators to justice.

“It seems our appeal fell on deaf ears and stony hearts,” Baylon said in a pastoral letter read in all Sunday Masses in the diocese.

He urged lay faithful to demand accountability and transparency from government leaders and police authorities particularly in the Duterte administration’s war on drugs.

While they support the government’s campaign against criminality, he said that people must “speak out and mobilize” when human rights are trampled upon and the rule of law set aside.

The bishop then called for a strong promotion of anti-drug abuse awareness in the parishes and schools, including a stronger Church’s presence in the social media.

Baylon invited all stakeholders but the church, he said, plays a special role in the process.

“We shall teach the young to shun illegal drugs, and also to uphold the life and dignity of the human person,” he said.

He also encouraged parishes and laypeople to reach out to the families affected by killings and to those suffering from drug dependence and addiction.

In November 2016, the diocese started “Harong Paglaom” (House of Hope), a community-based drug rehabilitation program in collaboration with local government units, the police, and other sectors of society. CBCPNews

Full text of the Diocese of Legazpi’s pastoral letter on the killings in the war on drugs:

Stop the killings, start the healing: A call to action

“God said: What have you done? Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground!” (Genesis 4,10)

In the Season of Creation, we are called to heed the cry of the earth and the poor. Today in our communities, this includes listening to the cries of families of victims of killings and violence.

God created us in His image and likeness. That is why we have the capacity to love, to be just and merciful. Today this fundamental truth about our human dignity and capacity for loving is being supplanted by a mindset that says there are persons who, on account of their sins, have lost their dignity and their rights to equal protection of the law.

The opposite of creation is destruction. This mindset has destroyed so much already: several thousands of lives have been lost in the war on drugs; truth has been perverted both in social media and in official government statements; democratic institutions have been assaulted; and far from the promise of reform, corruption has become even more rampant with the loss of transparency and accountability in government.

God called us to be in communion with the rest of creation, foremost with those who could not defend themselves. This year, we celebrate our parishes and highlight our being a communion of communities. To promote communion, we need to regain our capacity to respect the rights and dignity of all. This can only happen when we listen to the cries of the poor and the suffering in our midst. We need to regain our trust in government so we can work together for the good of all. But this can only happen when the rule of law, truth-telling, and accountability have become once again the norm in governance.

The opposite of communion is exclusion. This mindset erroneously argues that caring for public sinners and advocating for their civil rights will only endanger the rest of the good citizens of this country from becoming victims of crimes. Exclusion leads us along the path of indifference and hatred. Aside from the killings that continue unabated to this day, another grave scandal in our communities is the fact that there are Christians who support the policy of killings and find various justifications for them.

Pope Francis, during his Apostolic Visit to Colombia last September 10, remarked: “How much have we neglected, allowing barbarity to become enfleshed in the life of our people? Jesus commands us to confront those types of behavior, those ways of living that damage society and destroy the community. How many times have we ‘normalized’ the logic of violence and social exclusion, without prophetically raising our hands or voices!”

Almost a year ago we posted an open letter to the President, asking him “to order especially these extrajudicial killings be stopped, investigated, and those responsible arrested and brought to justice.” It seems our appeal fell on deaf ears and stony hearts. But the recent murders of several youngsters and attempts to restrain the promotion of human rights have awakened the consciences of many.

As pastors, we turn to you, our people, and commit to journeying with you in this time of darkness and bloodshed towards the building of a more just and humane society, with Christ and His Gospel as our guiding light. Let us unite to stop the killings in our communities!

1. We shall counter exclusion with communion. We shall make our parishes and schools, our media outlets and social media accounts, platforms for truth-telling, venues for dialogue among various stakeholders, and common ground for listening to voices that may speak different opinions but share common aspirations. We shall teach the young to shun illegal drugs, and also to uphold the life and dignity of the human person.

2. We shall reach out to care for families of victims of killings. As the Church has done since the beginning, we offer them the grace of the sacraments and the support of our faith communities as they seek justice and long for consolation.

3. We shall bring hope to substance use dependents and their families, and resolve to start and sustain more Harong Paglaom community-based rehabilitation programs in our parishes, in partnership with local government units, government agencies, the police, and other sectors of society.

4. We shall demand accountability and transparency from our leaders in government and law enforcement. Even as we support their efforts for meaningful reforms and their fight against corruption and criminality, we shall also speak out and mobilize when, in the process of change, human rights are trampled upon, the rule of law set aside, and democratic institutions destroyed.

5. We shall pray together. We shall continue the Prayer at Nine accompanied by the ringing of church bells at nine in the evening. Let the same Prayer be recited during Sunday Masses as well. Let us join the nationwide Forty Days of Prayer for the Dead until November 1. Let us bring back the beautiful penitential tradition called Perdon in our parishes in these trying times.

In this regard, we have issued a Diocesan Circular to spell out more concrete steps in support of this call to action.

May San Lorenzo Ruiz, who said that should he be given a thousand lives he would still willingly offer them all to God, remind us to walk the path of the Lord and care for the least among us in the midst of a war that gives so little value to the lives of the poor.

Stop the killings. Start the healing.

In solidarity with the suffering Body of Christ and with Mary Mother of Salvation,

+ JOEL Z. BAYLON
Bishop of Legazpi

Feast of San Lorenzo Ruiz
28 September 2017