The head of the Philippines’ powerful Catholic Church called for an end to the “waste of human lives” following a brutal week in President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war in which a 17-year-old boy was among dozens killed.
Police raids described as “one-time, big-time” saw at least 76 people shot dead, authorities said, as rights groups and legislators condemned the operation as an alarming “killing spree” in Duterte’s flagship campaign.
On Sunday, the highest-ranking church official in the predominantly Catholic nation expressed concern about the increase in the number of deaths.
“We knock on the consciences of those who kill even the helpless, especially those who cover their faces with bonnets, to stop wasting human lives,” Manila Cardinal Luis Tagle said in a statement read in Sunday masses in the capital.
“The illegal drug problem should not be reduced to a political or criminal issue. It is a humanitarian concern that affects all of us.”
Archbishop Socrates Villegas of the Roman Catholic Church says church bells will be rung for 15 minutes across his northern religious district starting Tuesday to rouse a citizenry “which has become a coward in expressing anger against evil.”
Duterte, 72, launched an unprecedented crackdown on illegal narcotics after winning the presidency last year on a promise to kill tens of thousands of criminals.
The church, one of the nation’s oldest and most powerful institutions, had been among the few voices denouncing the deaths as polls showed Duterte continuing to enjoy widespread popularity.
During the 14 months Duterte has been in power, police have confirmed killing more than 3,500 people – insisting they acted in self-defence.
The numbers saw a sudden spike last week with Duterte praising officers who shot dead 32 people in a single province and calling for more.