MANILA - Some law enforcers have approached the Church and expressed willingness to speak about their participation in extrajudicial killings and summary executions, the president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said Monday.
These law enforcers have come forward to their spiritual leaders "to seek sanctuary, succor and protection," said Archbishop Socrates Villegas.
"Their consciences are troubling them," he said in a statement.
He said the Church will look into the "sincerity of their motives and the veracity of their stories," and will be willing to grant them and their families accommodation, shelter and protection.
"The hospitality, comfort and acceptance that they seek from the Church will be attended to," he said, as he quoted a line from the Gospel of Matthew, "Whatever we do to the least of our brethren we do to Christ."
Villegas opened the Ministry of Mercy "at the service of these law enforcers who need the hospitality of the Church."
"In the areas of pastoral counselling and values formation, the Archdiocese of Lingayen Dagupan will be the loving teacher and mother of our law enforcers. Let us be guardian angels for one another," he said.
The archbishop said that the Church will not force the policemen to speak or make any allegations if they wish to testify in any investigations, and will see to it that nobody forces them.
Villegas said these law enforcers' statements must be made with the assistance of independent counsel and they will not be turned over to the state if they wish to stay with the Church.
"If their preference is to stay with us in the Church, they will not be turned over to the State under its own witness-protection program," he said.
Villegas, archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan in Pangasinan, asked the priests in his area "to open their hearts and their rectories, the convents of religious communities and seminaries as well as other secure buildings" to accommodate and be responsible for the security of the uniformed men and women "who may have something important to tell the nation or to testify on before the proper forum."
As he sought the help of volunteer lawyers to assist the witnesses, Villegas also reminded the priest to not discuss with these "asylum-seekers" the contents of their testimonies and depositions.
"When they so decide or opt to identify themselves and to testify, every means must be provided for a fair, accurate and unconstrained or unrestrained testimony that may be used in evidence," he said.
In a statement in August, Villegas said the country has fallen into chaos amid the government's war on drugs after a week of police anti-drug efforts left at least 91 people dead, including 32 people in Bulacan and Kian Lloyd Delos Santos, a Grade 12 student in Caloocan.
He also questioned why only the poor are killed in the drug operations while the powerful are seemingly given special treatment.
He said church bells in his archdiocese will ring every night for 15 minutes from August 22 to November 27 to "call for justice for the slain, plague the conscience of their killers and awaken the country."
Latest police estimates placed the number of drug suspects slain in legitimate anti-narcotics operations at around 3,800, but human rights groups placed the figure at 13,000, which the administration has described as overblown.