MANILA - Caloocan Diocese Bishop Pablo Virgilio "Ambo" David has sought the help of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in monitoring drug war deaths in his area of responsibility.
In a press conference Thursday, David said witnesses and even the families of drug suspects who died in vigilante killings or during police operations have been seeking protection from the church.
"It is to be expected that families of victims and witnesses would be wary of some government agencies because the accused are policemen. That's the reason why some of them choose to seek help from the church than from government agencies," he said.
Among those who sought the church's help, David said, was a witness in the killing of teenager Kian Loyd Delos Santos, who was accused by police of resisting arrest.
Just last Saturday, a commotion ensued at the San Roque Cathedral in Caloocan City when a witness' father initially wanted to transfer custody of his daughter to the police, but later on had a change of heart.
The incident led Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II to say that David could be guilty of "obstruction of justice" by taking custody of the witnesses, prompting the bishop to seek help from the CHR.
"I want to know if we are committing...obstructing justice when we respond to such request," he said, stressing that they never made access to the witnesses in their custody difficult.
The Caloocan Diocese covers the areas of South Caloocan, Malabon, and Navotas, where controversial drug war killings have been recorded, including the slay of teenagers Kian Loyd Delos Santos and Raymart Siapo.
Caloocan policemen were also tagged in the killing of teenagers Carl Angelo Arnaiz and Reynaldo "Kulot" de Guzman, who both resided in Cainta, Rizal.
Bishop David also lamented the House of Representatives' move to slash the budget of the CHR to P1,000, especially now that the diocese needs the Constitutional commission's help in monitoring drug war deaths in their area.
"In the past several months now, the only government agency we have sought help from was the Commission on Human Rights. I have invited them to give our people human rights education, and help us put up a human rights council to monitor all of these cases, especially the so-called deaths under investigation," he said.
Despite this, the bishop is still calling on witnesses and families of victims of extra-judicial killings to seek help from their parish priest. The bishop stressed that this is the time to speak up and prove that the cases of Kian, Carl and Reynaldo are not isolated.
"If you are in South Caloocan, Malabon or Navotas, which are part of my diocese, and you want your stories to be documented with the hope of being able to file cases in court with the help of volunteer lawyers without expense, please visit your parish priest. He will advise you on what to do and how to do it," he said.