Philippine bishops call end to killings in rally against drug war

Civil society groups during a rally led by the Roman Catholic church to call the attention of the government for the thousands of deaths in the so-called war on drugs by President Rodrigo Dutert Sunday in suburban Quezon city northeast of Manila. (AP)
Updated 05 November 2017

Philippine bishops call end to killings in rally against drug war

MANILA: Catholic bishops on Sunday led thousands of Philippine worshippers in calling for an end to killings in President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war as they urged police and troops to stop the violence.
The killing of three teenagers in August triggered rare public protests against Duterte’s anti-drugs campaign, with rights groups accusing him of committing crimes against humanity in a crackdown that has claimed thousands of lives.
The Catholic Church, which counts 80 percent of Filipinos as followers, has been one of the leading critics of the war on drugs and has launched campaigns to stop the killings, including one starting on Sunday dubbed “Heal Our Land.”
The church organized a mass and procession along a historic Manila highway called EDSA, where a bloodless popular revolt ended the iron rule of dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.
About 3,000 people — including opposition lawmakers, students and church groups — joined the event, according to police. They carried candles and placards reading, “Stop the Killings. Start the Healing.”
“Peace to you in the armed forces and the police. Stop the violence and uphold the law,” Archbishop Socrates Villegas, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, said at the mass.
“If we do not stop the killings, there will be a punishment for a nation that kills its own people.”
Duterte, 72, won elections last year after campaigning on a law-and-order platform and since then police have reported killing more than 3,900 “drug personalities.”
Duterte’s spokesman on Sunday said he did not condone extrajudicial killings, adding the government was investigating another 2,243 deaths in unsolved “drug-related” cases.
“The president himself made a clear stance that any violation committed by the police during operations would be dealt with accordingly,” Harry Roque said.
Villegas said the killings tested the nation and cited the case of 17-year-old student Kian Delos Santos, who died in a police anti-drug raid in August.
“Please stop. I still have a test tomorrow,” Villegas quoted Delos Santos as saying following witness accounts that he had begged for his life.


South Korea to deploy anti-piracy unit to the Strait of Hormuz

Updated 28 min 48 sec ago

South Korea to deploy anti-piracy unit to the Strait of Hormuz

  • South Korea will not officially be joining a coalition of forces known as the International Maritime Security Construct

SEOUL: South Korea’s military said on Tuesday it plans to expand the deployment of an anti-piracy unit now operating off the coast of Africa to the area around the Strait of Hormuz, after the United States pressed for help in guarding oil tankers.
Attacks on oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz off the coast of Iran last year prompted US officials to call for allies to join a planned maritime security mission.
While South Korea, a key US ally, will deploy its forces to the area, including the Gulf, it will not officially be joining a coalition of forces known as the International Maritime Security Construct, the defense ministry said.
“The South Korean government decided to temporarily expand the deployment of the Cheonghae military unit,” a ministry official told reporters, adding that the step would ensure the safety of citizens and free navigation of South Korean vessels.
The decision to divert the navy unit already operating southwest of Arabia is a political compromise that will not require fresh authorization by parliament ahead of an election in April.
The Cheonghae unit will continue with its mission while it cooperates with the coalition, the ministry said, adding that the United States had been briefed on the decision, which was also explained to the Iranians separately.
The United States welcomes and appreciates South Korea’s decision to expand the mission of its Cheonghae anti-piracy unit to the Strait of Hormuz, William Coleman, spokesman for the US Embassy in Seoul, told Reuters on Wednesday.
“This decision is a demonstration of the strength of the US-ROK alliance and our commitment to cooperate on global security concerns.”
The Iranian embassy in Seoul had no comment on the matter.
The Strait of Hormuz is a busy passageway into the Gulf, with vessels sailing through it approximately 900 times a year for South Korea, which gets more than 70% of its oil from the Middle East, the defense ministry says.
Sending troops to the area has been a politically sensitive issue in South Korea ahead of the election.
A survey by pollster Realmeter last week showed 48.4% of South Koreans were opposed to dispatching soldiers to the Strait, while 40.3% supported the idea.
Tuesday’s move was broadly supported by lawmakers although some said it could risk Iran ties and the safety of South Koreans in the region. A number of progressive activist groups issued a statement criticizing the decision and said they will stage a protest in front of the president’s office on Wednesday.
The Cheonghae unit has been stationed in the Gulf of Aden since 2009, working to tackle piracy in partnership with African countries as well as the United States and the European Union.
The 302-strong unit operates a 4,500-ton destroyer, a Lynx anti-submarine helicopter and three speed boats, South Korea’s 2018 defense white paper showed.
Among its operations were the rescue of a South Korean ship and its crew in 2011, shooting eight suspected pirates and capturing five others in the incident.
The South Korean troops have also evacuated South Korean citizens from Libya and Yemen, and as of November 2018 had escorted around 18,750 South Korean and international vessels.
South Korea, the world’s fifth-largest crude oil importer and one of Iran’s major oil customers, stopped importing Iranian crude from May after waivers of US sanctions ended at the start of that month.