Disturbed by the rise in vigilantism in the country, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) appealed to law enforcers not to pursue summary killings and issued guidelines to law enforcers to prevent abuse.
In a recent pastoral appeal to law enforcers, CBCP president Lingayen Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas cited reports that suspected drug peddlers and users were being murdered supposedly because they resisted arrest, showing up on whom placards announcing their alleged crimes are writ large.
“We are disturbed by an increasing number of reports that suspected drug peddlers, pushers and others about whom reports of criminal activity have been received, have been shot, supposedly because they resist arrest,” Villegas said.
“It is equally disturbing that vigilantism seems to be on the rise. Media has carried reports of bodies, apparently of homicide or murder victims, showing up on whom placards announcing their supposed crimes are writ large!” he added.
The pastoral letter offered law enforcers guidelines that they can “shoot to kill” solely for legitimate self-defense or defense of others.
Villegas reminded them that law and jurisprudence have sufficiently spelled out the elements of self-defense and for purposes of Catholic morality.
“And for purposes of Catholic morality, it is necessary to emphasize that you, as law enforcers, can ‘shoot to kill’ only first, when there is unjust provocation; second, when there is a real, not only conjectural, threat to your life or to the lives and safety of others; and third, when there is due proportion between the threat posed and your own use of a firearm aimed at the threatening subject,” he said.
The CBCP guidelines also stated that killing a suspect outright despite extensive surveillance work done on him or her was “not morally justified.”
Villegas stressed that suspicion is never the moral equivalent of certainty, and punishment may be inflicted only on the ground of certainty.
The archbishop said that the attempt to stop a suspect from escaping should be through “nonlethal means” unless his or her escape puts others in harm’s way.
He also urged members of the community to report all forms of vigilantism of which they have personal knowledge of as their moral duty as Catholics and Christians, but should not be too quick to point accusing fingers at law-enforcers, prosecutors and judges.
“For greater reason, it is a duty to keep away from any participation and any form of cooperation with vigilantes and vigilante movements,” Villegas said.
The CBCP also slammed giving bounty for killing drug lords, saying it is never morally permissible to receive reward money to kill another.
“When bounty-hunting takes the form of seeking out suspects of crime, killing them, then presenting proof of the death of the object of the hunt to the offer or of the reward, one is hardly any different from a mercenary, a gun-for-hire, no matter that the object of one’s manhunt should be a suspected offender,” Villegas said.
Earlier, Duterte said in his speech that he had raised the bounty for killing drug lords from P3 million to P5 million, P2 million as a reward for every slain illegal drug “distributor,” and P50,000 for small-time drug peddlers.
Some local government officials have also offered rewards for those who will capture or kill high profile suspected drug lords in their cities.
The Commission on Human Rights, other United Nations officials and some rights advocates have criticized Duterte for offering rewards for the vigilante killing of suspected drug suspects.