Filipino bishops urge bell-ringing, prayers to protest bloody drugs war

An anti-Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte protester raises a clenched fist during a rally at a park in Manila on Thursday. (AFP)
Updated 22 September 2017

Filipino bishops urge bell-ringing, prayers to protest bloody drugs war

MANILA: Stepping up a campaign against President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on drugs, Catholic bishops in the Philippines have called for church bells to be rung for the next 40 nights, and congregations to light candles and pray for the killing to end.
A pastoral letter by Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) sent to priests urged Catholics to pray for victims from Saturday until All Saints’ Day on Nov. 1, when Filipinos traditionally pay respects to the dead.
More than 3,800 people have been killed in anti-drugs operations in the past 15 months and at least 2,100 murders are suspected of being drug-related, according to police data, though human rights groups believe the numbers are understated.
“The relentless and bloody campaign against drugs that shows no sign of abating impels us, your bishops, to declare: In the name of God, stop the killings!” Archbishop Socrates Villegas, the head of the CBCP, said in the letter.
Such messages are typically read aloud in church or distributed to their congregations.
Many Catholic churches in the capital have already started lighting candles and ringing bells for five minutes each day at 8 p.m.
Thousands of Filipinos rallied against Duterte on Thursday to protest against what they fear is an emerging dictatorship, and several churches held mass against the killings and urged people to renounce violence.
The bishops are among the most influential dissenting voices to come out against the Duterte’s uncompromising strategy.
Having been largely silent on the issue when it first erupted last year, priests have increasingly taken a stand against the anti-drugs campaign.
As bodies started to appear nightly in Manila’s slums, the church stepped up its opposition, denouncing the killings and in some cases, providing sanctuary to witnesses of killings and drug users who feared they could be targeted.
Villegas said the country’s bishops were firmly against drugs, but killing was not the solution and prayer was “the most powerful weapon in our arsenal.”
Rights groups dispute official police accounts that say drug suspects were killed because they violently resisted arrest. Critics accuse police of executing users and small-time dealers and planting evidence, which police reject.
Pablo Virgilio David, bishop in Manila’s Caloocan City, where large numbers of drug-related killings have taken place, urged the authorities to end the killings and let healing begin.
“We disagree that we should treat them like monsters to be eliminated like stray cats and dogs,” he said of drug users and criminals. “We disagree that a criminal has no more hope of changing his life.”


Lithuania confirms first case of coronavirus

Updated 12 min 59 sec ago

Lithuania confirms first case of coronavirus

  • Lithuania reported on Friday its first confirmed case of coronavirus
  • Nigeria on Friday announced the first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus in sub-Saharan Africa

VILNIUS: Lithuania reported on Friday its first confirmed case of coronavirus, the government said, as the disease spreads rapidly worldwide.
Hopes that the virus would be contained to China vanished, with countries beginning to stockpile medical equipment and investors taking flight in expectation of a global recession.

New Zealand's health ministry on Friday also confirmed the country's first case of coronavirus in a person who recently returned from Iran.

Belarus registered the first case of coronavirus infection in the country, Russian news agency TASS reported, citing the Belarussian Ministry of Healthcare.
"We would like to inform you that February 27 tests conducted at the Republican Scientific and Practical Center of epidemiology and microbiology showed the presence of coronavirus 2019-nCoV in one of the students from Iran," TASS quoted the ministry.

In Greece, two new cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to three.
The health ministry said one of the cases concerned a relative of a 38 year old woman in the northern town of Thessaloniki, the first confirmed case reported in Greece. The woman had recently returned from Milan in northern Italy.
Meanwhile, Nigeria announced the first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus in sub-Saharan Africa.
The case is an Italian citizen who works in Nigeria and returned from Milan earlier this week, Health Minister Osagie Ehanire said in a statement on Twitter.
“The patient is clinically stable, with no serious symptoms, and is being managed at the Infectious Disease Hospital in Yaba, Lagos,” Ehanire said.
Italy has become a hotbed of infection in recent days, with the largest outbreak in Europe.
But the low number of cases across Africa, which has close economic ties with China, the epicenter of the deadly outbreak, has puzzled health specialists.