Voices of the Catholic Church

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This past week, some of the strongest voices protesting against the brutal execution by criminal police officers of Kian de los Santos were from the Catholic Church. If there is any institution that can stop the massacre of the poor, it is the Church. Ravenous wolves are killing the weakest and poorest of the flock; we need our shepherds to actively stop this. 13,000 have been killed and we will exceed 20,000 casualties by the end of the year, and get to 50,000-60,000 by the end of Duterte’s term with the certainty, admitted by the President himself, that even then the war against drugs would not have been won.

The voices we heard from the Church were diverse, some very personal like that of Fr. Joel Tabora SJ, president of Ateneo de Davao, and Bishop Ambo David of Caloocan where Kian and his family lived. Cardinal Chito Tagle, Archbishop of Manila, and Fr. Tony Moreno SJ, outgoing Provincial of the Society of Jesus were more prescriptive but their words were just as important.

Fr. Joel took the death of Kian personally. He recalled that when he was 17, he was still in first year college. According to Fr. Joel: “That today is the equivalent of eleventh grade. At seventeen, when I was pondering the differences between marriage and the priesthood, between management engineering and joining the Society of Jesus, I was the age of Kian de los Santos in the same academic level as he. That Kian was framed, shot and killed in a police action gone rogue, at a time when his life was yet unfolding, is a matter of deep personal pain for me. It could have been me at seventeen. It could have ended all. In the case of Kian, it did end all.” “The death of Kian is not defensible. He was only seventeen. Think of all the possibilities killed. Think of his goodness extinguished. Think of his bereaved family, friends and nation,” Fr. Joel laments.

Of course, as Fr. Joel points out, we must fight the war on drugs, which is “a battle for human life, for human dignity and the integrity of human society in the Philippine context.” This is echoed by Fr. Moreno who describes the menace of illegal drugs as real and destructive. Fr. Tony argues that “the evil that attacks the human with the power of the demonic, should unite us, not divide us”; “Instead of turning our weapons on one another, we must unite, coordinate, and allow good to ally with good; we must fight this enemy together”; it is an evil we must fight with insight, cooperation, cunning, the enlightened use of political and economic power, self-sacrifice, prayer and God’s grace.”

Fr. Tony calls on everyone to come together to have a better understanding of the situation: “We need to understand why the soul of the war on drugs is a human soul, and why the enemy of this war is not human rights, but lack of commitment to human rights. We need to understand why we cannot fight for human beings by denying them their rights. In a society where the human has so lightly lost his soul to corruption, hedonism, and disrespect for the human person, we need to understand how the poor are illegal drugs’ worst victims, addicted, trafficked, then shot by the guns drug money buys. We need to understand how denying the international drug cartels their markets does not mean killing the poor who are their victims, but reforming the structure which keep the poor poor. We need to understand that building the drug-free, smart, socially-just religiously diverse society envisioned by the Duterte administration needs patient multi-sectoral collaboration of good people collaborating with good people. We cannot build the Philippine nation on the cadavers of the Filipino people.”

In this regard, the Jesuits support the initiative of Cardinal Tagle to bring people together for a multi-sectoral dialogue so we can have a common understanding, shared objectives, and more importantly undertake joint actions to win the battle against drugs and stopping the massacre of the poor.

Cardinal Tagle is right that what we need are not only statistics but human stories”: “Families with members who have been destroyed by illegal drugs must tell their stories. Families with members who have been killed in the drug-war, especially the innocent ones, must be allowed to tell their stories. Drug addicts who have recovered must tell their stories of hope. Let their stories be told, let their human faces be revealed.”

The most powerful words this past week was of course from Bishop David, who God in his infinite wisdom designated to be principal shepherd of the epicenters of the massacre of the poor. Below are excerpts from the English version of his homily (entitled “When Heaven Wept”) delivered during Kian’s funeral last Saturday. Speaking directly to the parents of Kian, this gentlest of pastors said:

“That is why there are many people here now who are condoling with you, Zaldy and Lorenza. They are here not because of politics. They are here to silently express their solidarity with you and the many others whose children have also died because they allegedly “fought back.” Many of them have not bothered to file charges, for fear that another one of their children might also be abducted and killed. There are many witnesses who have not had the courage to testify in court, for fear of reprisal. 

But thanks to the outpouring of solidarity, you found the courage to pursue legal means to obtain justice for your son. Even your neighbors found the courage to stand as witness, to testify to what they had seen and heard. I also salute the young lady Barangay Chair for having the courage to submit the CCTV footages. (The families of other victims had demanded such CCTV footages in other barangays and never got them. Most of them were told that the CCTV were not functioning. Almost always, they would be functioning again after a day.) Even the city mayor had the courage to demand an independent investigation–which I was invited to, when he held a meeting of the Peace and Order Council of Caloocan the day after Kian’s murder . . .

Maybe God took Kian on the feast day of San Roque because he has a message for us all. So that we would wake up and realize that extermination is not the right solution to the modern pestilence of addiction to illegal drugs. The addicts and pushers are not the enemies but the victims. The cruel and simplistic solution of exterminating them will not rid our country of illegal drugs. Thousands of kilograms of shabu will continue to flood our country if there is no systematic effort to trace the source. We are here to plead with the government: Stop the Killings! Start the Healing! We can work together for the healing of addicts through community-based rehabilitation programs. But more importantly, let us heal the divisions, the conflicts, and the exchanges of cruel words. Let us rid ourselves of anything that diminishes our humanity.

Zaldy and Lorenza, we are one with you in your grief. Even heaven condoles with you. Rest assured that Kian’s life has not been wasted, even if it was cut short by senseless violence and cruelty. It is not wasted because it has served as a thorn that has pricked the consciences of our people and has awakened them from moral slumber.”

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