08/03/2021 Philippines (International Christian Concern) – In June of 2016, Rodrigo Duterte became the sixteenth president of the Philippines. The start of his administration began four years of heightened persecution of the Catholic Church in the country. The church was no stranger to persecution before Duterte’s presidency but found itself consistently the target of derision and sedition charges from the president himself for speaking out against his policies.
One of the policies that Duterte has enacted during his administration is the “drug war.” His administration has targeted anyone suspected of being involved in the drug trade and uses extreme measures against them. This results in arrests, killings, and death sentences for those accused of involvement with the drug trade without proper legal procedure. As a result, his administration has killed thousands of people without allowing them a fair trial.
Many clergy members have spoken out against this senseless taking of lives, invoking the government’s wrath for doing so. According to Phil Star, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas called the killings a “reign of terror.” The church, he said, knows the drug problem should be stopped, but not at a high cost of lives.
In response to church leaders speaking out against his drug war and other controversial policies, Duterte’s administration has engaged in the “red-tagging” of its opponents. Red-tagging is when Duterte’s administration labels outspoken activists or religious clergy as communist rebels or terrorists, which gives them an excuse to arrest or prosecute these dissidents. Many priests have been targeted in this way throughout Duterte’s presidency.
As Duterte continued to rail against the church, clergymen in 2019 reported receiving death threats. Three priests were killed during the Duterte presidency: Fr. Marcelito Paez in December 2017, Fr. Mark Ventura in April 2018, and Fr. Richmond Nilo in June of the same year.
In June of 2022, President Duterte will step down. However, church leaders, who continued speaking out against Duterte and his administration despite consistent persecution, have stated that the church will continue to be vocal as the country chooses new leaders next year.
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