Philippine Catholic Church slams ‘reign of terror’ behind war on drugs

Funeral workers use a stretcher to transfer a body to a waiting van, after what police said was a drug-related vigilante killing, in Caloocan city, Metro Manila, Philippines, on February 2, 2017. (Reuters file photo
Updated 04 February 2017

Philippine Catholic Church slams ‘reign of terror’ behind war on drugs

MANILA: The Philippines’ Catholic Church assailed President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs for creating a “reign of terror” among the poor, in sermons read out at Saturday services that will be repeated to congregations across the country on Sunday.
In its most strongly worded attack on the crackdown on drug pushers and users, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines said killing people was not the answer to trafficking of illegal drugs, and it was disturbing that many didn’t care about the bloodshed, or even approved of it.
“An even greater cause of concern is the indifference of many to this kind of wrong. It is considered as normal, and, even worse, something that (according to them) needs to be done,” the bishops said in a pastoral letter, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters.
“An additional cause of concern is the reign of terror in many places of the poor. Many are killed not because of drugs. Those who kill them are not brought to account,” they said.
More than 7,600 people have been killed since Duterte launched his anti-drugs campaign seven months ago, more than 2,500 in what police say were shootouts during raids and sting operations.
Both the government and police have strenuously denied that extrajudicial killings have taken place. The president’s office had no immediate comment on the bishops’ letter.
Beginning with Mass services on Saturday evening, priests read out the letter signed by the bishops of Asia’s biggest Catholic nation. Their address did not mention Duterte by name, but urged “elected politicians to serve the common good of the people and not their own interests” and called for steps to tackle “rogue policemen and corrupt judges.”
Nearly 80 percent of the Philippines’ 100 million people are Catholic and, unlike in many other countries where the faith has waned, the majority still practice with enthusiasm. While that support has historically given the Church significant political and social clout, it has been hesitant to criticize the blunt-spoken president’s war on drugs.
In interviews with Reuters last year, more than a dozen clergymen said they were uncertain how to take a stand against the killings given the popular support for Duterte’s campaign. Some said challenging him could be fraught with danger.
Duterte has routinely attacked the Church. He cursed the Pope for causing traffic snarl-ups during his 2015 visit, and as recently as this week called for a “showdown” with priests whom he has accused of having wives, engaging in homosexual acts, misusing state funds and molesting children.

'Rogue cops'
In apparent reference to accusations that many drug pushers and users have been victims of extra-judicial killings, the bishops said “every person has a right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty,” and the law should be followed.
“We must also give priority to reforming rogue policemen and corrupt judges,” they said.
The pastoral letter was read out during Mass on Saturday evening to a congregation of about 50 — mostly women — at the domed Church of St. Joseph inside the sprawling grounds of Camp Crame, the national police headquarters in Manila.
Father Jojo Borja, a chaplain at Camp Crame, said the situation was difficult for clergymen, particularly those employed by the government.
“We have to be in the middle always,” he told Reuters. “When we talk against the government we will be kicked out from the service. Sometimes we will be called for questioning, to ask about our loyalty.”
The bishops’ letter comes less than a week after Duterte suspended all police operations in the drug crackdown due to what he said was deep-rooted corruption in the force. He has put an anti-drugs agency in charge of the campaign and says he wants the military to play a supportive role.
In a series of reports last year, Reuters showed that the police had a 97-percent kill rate in their drug operations, the strongest proof yet that police were summarily shooting drug suspects.
The Reuters reports also found that low-level officials in poor neighborhoods helped police assemble “watch lists” of alleged drug users and pushers that were effectively hit-lists, with many of the people named ending up dead.
Duterte used exaggerated and flawed data, including the number of drug users in the Philippines, to justify his anti-narcotics crackdown, according to a Reuters investigation.
In a report this week, Amnesty International said police prosecuting the war on drugs behaved like the criminal underworld they were supposed to be suppressing, taking payments for killings and the delivery of bodies to funeral homes.
It said the wave of drugs-related killings appeared to be “systematic, planned and organized” by authorities, and could constitute crimes against humanity.


Man suspected of killing wife, three children in Australia fire

Updated 20 February 2020

Man suspected of killing wife, three children in Australia fire

  • Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the country was ‘shocked, saddened and devastated’ by the tragedy
  • A passer-by who tried to intervene in the situation was also taken to hospital to be treated for facial burns

SYDNEY: An ex-rugby league player is suspected of murdering his three children and estranged wife in Australia by burning them alive inside their car, in what police described as one of the most horrific incidents they have encountered.

Officers said 31-year-old Hannah Clarke died in a Brisbane hospital on Wednesday just hours after her three children aged three, four and six were found dead in the car on a suburban street.

Her husband, Rowan Baxter, who also died, allegedly approached the vehicle and doused it with petrol before setting it alight, The Australian newspaper reported.

The paper said Clarke jumped from the burning car and rolled on the ground, saying “he’s poured petrol on me.”

Officials said she was rushed to hospital with severe burns following the “horrific” incident but later succumbed to her injuries.

Baxter, a 42-year-old former rugby league player for the New Zealand Warriors, was believed to be in the burning vehicle but got out and died on a footpath.

Queensland Police detective inspector Mark Thompson said Thursday that Baxter died as a result of burns and a self-inflicted wound.

“Information that’s to hand has led us to believe that the Baxter children and Hannah Clarke were killed and I don’t believe there’s any suspicious circumstances around the death of Rowan Baxter,” he said.

Clarke’s sister-in-law, Stacey Roberts, set up a fundraiser to pay for funeral costs and support Hannah’s parents, who she said had “exhausted themselves to try and help Hannah escape this monster.”

“All those who knew Hannah or had even just met her once would know how much of a beautiful soul she was. Her children (were) her life,” Roberts posted on Facebook.

The page has so far raised almost Aus$100,000 ($67,000).

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the country was “shocked, saddened and devastated” by the tragedy, which has led to an outpouring of grief on social media.

“Hannah and her three children were so senselessly and maddeningly murdered in what has occurred in a terrible act of violence and it just grieves our hearts terribly today,” he said.

Natasha Stott Despoja, a former senator and chair of anti-violence group Our Watch, called for stronger action to address violence against women in Australia, which she described as a “national emergency.”

“I know people want change, people are angry & sad today,” she tweeted. “How long before we stop this slaughter in our suburbs?“

A passer-by who tried to intervene in the situation was also taken to hospital to be treated for facial burns, a Queensland Ambulance Service spokesperson said.

The emergency responders who attended the scene have been stood down from their duties and will receive support, he added.