MANILA - Amid a spate of teen deaths, the country's Catholic hierarchy on Tuesday issued one of its strongest statements yet condemning drug-related killings.
Led by outgoing Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) President Archbishop Socrates Villegas, the prelates said recent killings of teenagers must not be mere statistics.
"In the name of God, stop the killings! May the justice of God come upon those responsible for the killings," the bishops said. "For the good of the country, stop the killings! The toll of 'murders under investigation' must stop now."
The prelates also held the nation accountable for their deaths.
"The nation must beat its breast in a collective admission of guilt for in our silence and in our inaction, in our diffidence and in our hesitation lie our complicity in their deaths!" the statement read.
"We are appalled by the remorselessness by which even the young are executed," they said.
The CBCP cited the killings of 17-year-old Kian Loyd delos Santos, 19-year-old Carl Angelo Arnaiz, and 14-year-old Reynaldo De Guzman in separate incidents.
Delos Santos, who police tagged in illegal drugs, was slain in an anti-narcotics sweep in Caloocan City on Aug. 16, after allegedly shooting at pursuing officers. Arnaiz was meanwhile killed on Aug. 18 when he allegedly robbed a taxi driver, also in Caloocan.
But families of the two teens are calling for justice, asserting that the boys were not involved in crime. Evidence also suggest the two were murdered as they were shot when already on the ground.
Authorities and his family are meanwhile debating whether or not the body of a boy found in Gapan, Nueva Ecija on Sept. 6 was indeed De Guzman.
De Guzman and Arnaiz were together on Aug. 17 when they left their Cainta, Rizal neighborhood to get some snacks. His father identified the body through a mark on the boy's neck and a wart on the left knee.
But police said Monday that the body was not De Guzman's, citing DNA test results.
STOP MURDERS, REIGN OF TERROR
The Church's consistent stand against the administration's anti-drug war has earned President Rodrigo Duterte's ire.
But in its latest statement, the CBCP called on the government to stop their "systematic murders and spreading reign of terror."
The prelates also hit the labeling of certain individuals as drug addicts or criminals.
"When we label members of our society because of the offenses they commit – or that we impute rightly or wrongly against them – as 'unsalvageable', 'irremediable', 'hopelessly perverse' or 'irreparably damaged', then it becomes all the easier for us to consent to their elimination, if not to participate outright in their murder," the statement added.
The bishops also urged the faithful to continue praying especially for the families of those slain in the drug war.
The CBCP also called on churches across the country to continue the practice of tolling the bells every 8:00 p.m. as a sign of protest and prayer for the bereaved.
"We intend to offend none but the evil in our midst. We are angry at none but the indifference amongst us. We fight the darkness not with spark of bullets but with the light of Christ. We beg for prayers and we ask for a change of heart in all of us," the bishops added.
Government has repeatedly denied it was behind the killings of drug suspects. Duterte has also promised justice for the recent teen deaths.
Read the full statement below: