Philippine priests get death threats for being critical of ‘war on drugs’ killings

Father Robert Reyes, a recognised Filipino Catholic priest and human rights activist, together with two other priests, said that they would continue to voice out their disapproval for the thousands of extrajudicial killings since President Duterte began his term in 2016

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At least three prominent Philippine Catholic church leaders said that several clergymen who were critical of President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs have been receiving death threats from unknown individuals.

Based on reports, Father Robert Reyes, a recognised Filipino Catholic priest and human rights activist, together with two other priests, said that they would be steadfast in their conviction to voice out their resentment for the thousands of extrajudicial killings since President Duterte began his term in 2016.

In 2018, opposition legislators in the country noted that over 20,000 suspected drug dealers and users have been killed in the government’s war on drugs. However, this number has yet to be confirmed.

The priests confirmed the threats have become more apparent amid their continued tirade against President Duterte’s anti-narcotics campaign.

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In a recent press conference at a seminary in Quezon City, aside from Father Reyes, two other priests, Fathers Flavie Villanueva and Albert Alejo said that they had been receiving death threats.

Other priests, Archbishop Socrates Villegas and Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, also said that they had received death threats in the past.

Father Villanueva, who manages a center for widows and orphans, said some people might feel ‘threatened’ by his acts of lambasting the government’s bloody war on drugs.

He said if assisting the drug war orphans and widows was a threat, then perhaps some people want to shut him down.

Being a drug user himself in the past, Father Villanueva rolled out an initiative known as “Paghilom” (Healing) in 2016 to help families of drug addicts who had been killed.

The Healing project is a church-based initiative that provides hope to members of the Church and society to have renewed lives, particularly drug addicts.

The priest stressed he is passionate about this initiative because he believes that drug users should be given the chance to change and not be killed for their addiction.

Father Alejo noted many of the church leaders are very concerned about their safety.

He added they came out in the open not only because of threats but for the wrongful allegations that might be thrown at them if they were to be killed.

In December 2017, the Church community had reported that three Catholic priests had been killed, raising concern from many Church authorities.

Despite the threats, Father Reyes said these killings would never stop them from fulfilling their mission to safeguard the Filipino community, especially the oppressed.

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