This is the full text version of the open letter directed to President Rodrigo Duterte, circulated by the Bishop, Clergy, Religious and Lay Leaders of the Diocese of Legazpi, if you may care to read:
Dear Mr. President
WE, the Bishop, Clergy, Religious and Lay Leaders of the Diocese of Legazpi, greet you and wish you all the graces and blessings from our Merciful and Compassionate God!
In the last elections, you won overwhelmingly over your rivals. We saw it as a repudiation of past administrations whose efforts to improve the living conditions of our people, despite advances in economic growth and progress, have barely benefited the poorest of the poor. Your popular mandate seems to be indicative of a people who have become weary and wary of empty promises by politicians. For the poor especially, whose lives are mired in dire poverty, unemployment and hopelessness, you, Mr. President, represent their last bastion of hope, and your rise to the Presidency a golden opportunity.
We trust that you are very much aware of this, and that you share their dreams, too. In fact, you have embarked on a number of programs that will bring this to fruition, such as directing the various government agencies to facilitate services, cutting down on red tape to provide more access for the poor.
More importantly, you have waged a war on illegal drugs, a menace that has resulted in ruined lives, wrecked homes and destroyed dreams. We assure you, Mr. President, that we are in full support of your desire to eradicate this drug problem. With you we dream of a drug-free Philippines where our young are able to freely fulfill their dreams, and every one – especially the poor – is able to express themselves without fear and find their rightful place in society. Like you we want those unscrupulous persons and groups that make possible the entry, production and distribution of these illegal substances, to be found, arrested and brought to justice.
Recent events, however, make us suspect that this golden opportunity may be slowly slipping away. It seems to us too much focus is put on the eradication of the drug problem, and the solution lies merely in the killing of drug suspects, who already number close to 5000 to date. Most of all, it saddens us to see that the majority of the victims of this war against drugs are the very same poor whose lives you promised to protect and alleviate from the shackles of abject poverty.
Mr. President, we reiterate the position of the Catholic Church and other Christian denominations, that killing is morally and legally wrong. Morally, because God wants the salvation of the sinner and not his death (Ezekiel 33,11). Legally, because, being a lawyer yourself, you know that one is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt; and even if one is proven guilty, the most that the law provides is reclusion perpetua (life imprisonment). Yes, as we said above, we support your drive against illegal drugs and other forms of criminality, but we question the method, for “the end does not justify the means”.
We further acknowledge that many of our law enforcers are honest-to-goodness public servants, but there are reports on the spate of “rub-outs” allegedly done by the police and government-sponsored death squads. Mr. President, we urge you to order especially these extra-judicial killings be stopped, investigated and those responsible arrested and brought to justice.
Because of these killings, we are sadly witnessing a growing callousness among our people, accepting these as a fact of life; for they say, these persons were after all drug addicts, and therefore they deserved to die! What is happening to us? Have we become so heartless that we cannot anymore feel for them, their families and those loved ones they have left behind?
To you, Mr. President and to our people, we say this:
We, the Bishop, Clergy, Religious and Lay Leaders of the Diocese of Legazpi are doing our best to help address the drug problem through peaceful and more compassionate ways other than killing. We have started HARONG PAGLAOM (House of Hope), which is a community-based rehabilitation program aimed at providing recovery coaching, spiritual guidance and life skills training to substance users, in collaboration with local government units, particularly the barangays. Through this modest but sincere effort, we not only want to help these returnees, but also assure them that in life there are second chances and the opportunity to do and be better.
We also encourage our parishes, schools as well as ecclesial communities to come together in study groups for prayer, discernment and concerted action, as we try to live out God’s call to us, i.e., to become a compassionate and merciful Church in the Diocese of Legazpi. Come and join us! Together we can make a difference and significantly reduce this disorder in our midst, and – more importantly – work for the betterment of the lives of our people especially the poor.
Above all, we offer this prayer for the enlightenment of us all. Starting on 27 November next, the First
Sunday of Advent, at nine o’clock in the evening, and every night henceforth for as long as it will take, we will ring the bells of our churches and chapels to call our people to prayer, to ask God to bless us all with His grace of Mercy and Compassion. This prayer we call PRAYER AT NINE.
Merciful and Compassionate Father, he who sows discord cannot understand you, he who loves violence cannot welcome you. Watch over us in our human condition tried by the brutal acts of terror, violence and death. Comfort your children and open our hearts to hope that we may once again know days of security and peace.
May Mary, Mother of Salvation and Queen of Peace, help those who hold power over people to uphold the rule of law and defend the sanctity of life; those entrusted with arms to protect and serve, to act responsibly and respect the rights of all, even criminals; those who work for peace to find comfort and strength under her maternal care and protection; and each one of us to begin finally and resolutely to walk along the path of true justice, mercy and peace.
Lord, let our people bleed no more! We ask this in the name of Jesus, Prince of Peace! AMEN.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
+ JOEL Z. BAYLON, D. D.
Bishop of Legazpi
and the Clergy, Religious and Lay Leaders
of the Diocese of Legazpi