Thousands of Filipino Catholics march against death penalty, war on drugs

Thousands of Catholic faithful gathered in a dawn rally in a "show of force" against alleged extrajudicial killings in Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's drug war in Manila on February 18, 2017. More than 6,000 people have died seven months after Duterte ordered an unprecedented crime war that has drawn global criticism but enjoys popularity in the mainly Catholic nation.
PHOTO: AFP

MANILA - Thousands of Roman Catholics marched in the Philippines capital Manila on Saturday in the biggest gathering denouncing extra-judicial killings and a government plan to reimpose the death penalty for criminals.

Dubbed a "Walk for Life" prayer rally and endorsed by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), the gathering came just days after the church launched its strongest attack against President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs.

Organisers claimed as many as 50,000 people took part in the march toward Manila's Rizal Park, while about 10,000 based on police estimates stayed to hear speeches.

More than 7,600 people have been killed since Duterte launched his anti-drugs campaign seven months ago. More than 2,500 died in shootouts during raids and sting operations, according to the police.

Amid mounting criticism about a surge in killings, Duterte said on Saturday that the campaign was "by and large successful".

Speaking at the Philippine Military Academy's alumni homecoming in Baguio City, he said the drug problem was more complex than he initially thought, prompting him to seek military support. "I need the help of each one, especially the military, not for social control but protection (for) the citizens from the lawless, the reckless, and the selfish," the firebrand leader said.

Both the government and police have denied that extra-judicial killings have taken place. But human rights groups believe many deaths that police had attributed to vigilantes were carried out by assassins likely colluding with police. "We cannot teach that killing is wrong by killing those who kill. It also increases the number of killers," CBCP president Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas said in a statement.

Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, who also joined the rally, called for strengthening and promoting the culture of non-violent movements.

President Rodrigo Duterte's official visit to Singapore

  • Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte poses for selfies with Filipinos living in Singapore after an orchid naming ceremony at Singapore Botanic Gardens.
  • Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte arrives for an orchid naming ceremony at Singapore Botanic Gardens.
  • The Dendrobium Rodrigo Roa Duterte, a hybrid orchid named after Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, at an orchid naming ceremony at Singapore Botanic Gardens.
  • ilippines President Rodrigo Duterte poses with the Dendrobium Rodrigo Roa Duterte, a hybrid orchid named after him, during an orchid naming ceremony at Singapore Botanic Gardens.
  • Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte looks at the Dendrobium Rodrigo Roa Duterte, a hybrid orchid named after him.
  • Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong receiving His Excellency Rodrigo Roa Duterte, President of The Republic Of The Philippines on 16 December 2016.
  • Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and His Excellency Rodrigo Roa Duterte, President of The Republic Of The Philippines at lunch hosted by PM Lee on 16 December 2016.
  • Group photo at lunch hosted by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for His Excellency Rodrigo Roa Duterte, President of The Republic Of The Philippines on 16 December 2016.
  • Mr Bernard Carpio, 40, took time off from work and came here with his wife and two children to show his support for President Duterte.
  • Event volunteers taking a group picture with a standee of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
  • Members of the Filipino community arriving at Singapore Expo.
  • State visit to Singapore by President of the Republic of Philippines, Rodrigo Roa Duterte. Venue: Istana.
  • Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (left) with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who is in Singapore for a two-day visit.
  • Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (left) with Singapore President Tony Tan at the welcome ceremony held for the former at the Istana.
  • State visit to Singapore by President of the Republic of Philippines, Rodrigo Roa Duterte. Venue: Istana.
  • State visit to Singapore by President of the Republic of Philippines, Rodrigo Roa Duterte. Venue: Istana.
  • State visit to Singapore by President of the Republic of Philippines, Rodrigo Roa Duterte. Venue: Istana.
  • Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (left) meets with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte at the Istana on 15 December 2016. Mr Duterte is on a two-day state visit to Singapore.
  • State visit to Singapore by President of the Republic of Philippines, Rodrigo Roa Duterte. Venue: Istana.
  • The Philippine President is on a 2-day visit to Singapore.
  • Mr Duterte's visit to Singapore is his first since he took office in June.
  • Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte inspects an honour guard with Singapore's President Tony Tan at the Istana in Singapore on December 15, 2016.
  • Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte prepares to inspect an honour guard with Singapore's President Tony Tan at the Istana on December 15, 2016.
  • Mr Duterte inspects an honour guard in a welcome ceremony for him at the Istana.
  • After the welcome ceremony, Dr Tan will host a State Banquet in honour of his Philippine counterpart.
  • On Dec 16, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will host Mr Duterte to lunch.
  • During his visit, the Philippine President will also meet Singapore business leaders and have an orchid named in his honour at the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

In its most strongly worded attack on the crackdown on drug pushers and users, a CBCP pastoral letter read out at services across the country early this month said killing people was not the answer to trafficking of illegal drugs.

Nearly 80 per cent of the Philippines' 100 million people are Catholic and until recently the church had been hesitant to criticise Duterte's war on drugs.

Senator Leila de Lima, a staunch critic of Duterte's war on drugs now facing three drug-related charges, also joined the rally. She said the charges were meant to silence her.

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