MANILA - A gathering led by Catholic bishops calling for an end to killings in President Rodrigo Duterte's drug war shows democracy is alive and well under this administration, Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said Monday.
The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines on Sunday ended its 40-days of mourning period for the victims of extrajudicial killings with a prayer rally along EDSA, which they dubbed "Lord, Heal Our Land,"
"Buhay na buhay ang ating demokrasya. Hinahayaan natin ang oposisyon at ating mga kababayan to express their opinion, to express their beliefs," Andanar told ANC's Headstart while emphasizing that the killings were never part of the administration's policy.
"Yung 2,500 na mga namatay because of the drug operations, ito naman ay resulta ng operasyon ng Philippine National Police. The rest of those who have died are under investigation now and I would say na ito yung mga normal na mga kaso ng homicide, murder na nangyayari even in the past administration," he said.
Speaking to reporters in Cebu City on Sunday, incoming Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the rally should not be taken as a threat to the administration.
In a separate statement, Roque also stressed that the President allows constructive dissent and that those who have grievances will be given proper space to protest.
In the interview, Andanar urged the Church to also speak up on the crimes committed by drug dependents or distributors and not only the drug war casualties.
"Everyone has a right to express themselves and maybe we can also appeal to the CBCP na ipaglaban din ang karapatan ng mga biktima ng drug lords, ang karapatan ng mga biktima ng drug pushers—yung mga namatay, ni-rape, ninakawan, mga na-snatch-an," he said.
"Maraming namatay na because of the influence of illegal drugs. Maybe it’s time also for the CBCP to fight for their rights or to pray for them also; hindi lang yung 2,500 or 2,800 na namatay because of police operations," he added.
Andanar noted that Duterte has shifted gears in his drug war, handing the reins over to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency. He said the Chief Executive should no longer be made accountable for the deaths left in the campaign's wake.
"Malinaw na sinabi ng Presidente na kapag bumalik ang droga sa lansangan at kapag dumami ulit ang drug-related crimes, do not look at the President, do not blame him kasi nilipat na niya sa Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency," he said.
He added the administration has also started changes in other areas apart from the law enforcement side, including the Bureau of Customs and the Department of Health.
"It’s not going to be an overnight solution. We know that our bureaucracy really has a huge problem and minana natin ito. We inherited this, but we are fixing this," he said.