Bishops bar priests from joining ‘Tokhang’

Bishops bar priests from joining ‘Tokhang’
Priests and seminarians join the “Walk for Life” organized by the Knights of Columbus to show their opposition against extrajudicial killings and the death penalty in Borongan City, March 4, 2017. ALREN JEROME BERONIO/ESTE NEWS

MANILA– Another Catholic bishop has junked an invitation for priests to join in the police’s revived anti-drug operations.

Bishop Crispin Varquez of Borongan said he could not allow priests to be part of the “Oplan Tokhang” (knock and plead) operations since arresting suspected drug pushers and users are beyond the clergy’s mandate.

“It’s not the work of the Church, especially the priests to identify and arrest those suspected of being involved in selling or using drugs,” Varquez told Este, the news service of the Borongan diocese.

“It is against our ministry, especially in the Confession, but we have programs that focus on the moral and spiritual rehabilitation of drug victims,” he said.

Philippine National Police chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa earlier said he wants priests to join in their anti-narcotics operation in a supposed effort to make their campaign less bloody.

The Oplan Tokhang, which has claimed more than thousands of lives of suspected drug pushers and users, was suspended for a month after some law enforcers were tagged in the killing of a South Korean businessman.

The police chief, who chided the bishops for criticizing the government’s war on drugs, also said that priests will be provided with bulletproof vests and helmets for their safety.

Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo earlier described Dela Rosa’s invitation as “mere propaganda”.

“We will only be used,” he said.

In Cebu, Archbishop Jose Palma also said he won’t allow his priests to join in the anti-illegal drug operations since “it’s not an area of our calling”.

According to him, Oplan Tokhang may have started with vested intention, “but it has gained an unfortunate and bad reputation”.

The bishops said the Church is willing to help and has been collaborating with the local authorities for the rehabilitation of drug users.

In Borongan, Varquez tasked the Neocatechumenal Way community to conduct an evangelization program for drug surrenderers.

The prelate believes that spiritual formation is important for the former drug users to resist the temptation of going back to their illegal activities.

The same initiatives are also being done in several other dioceses across the country.

“Drug offenders should not be killed. Everyone should be given the chance for renewal,” Varquez said.

Echoing the stand of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, he reiterated that the root cause of the drug problem must be addressed which is poverty and the country’s poor justice system.

“If the government is really bent on solving the drug problem, they should run after the drug lords, the drug manufacturers, the financiers,” he added.

“Of the more than seven thousand killed in the drugs operations, majority are users and small-time drug peddlers, while the drug lords have managed to evade the law,” he said. CBCPNews