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Fr. Shay Cullen calls out bishops for silence on Duterte’s deadly war on drugs —report

An Irish missionary in the Philippines has lamented the lack of Filipino bishops who are taking a stand against President Rodrigo Duterte's war on illegal drugs, which has been blamed for thousands of deaths since June 30.

In an interview with the US-based National Catholic Reporter, Fr. Shay Cullen noted only six Filipino bishops, including Dagupan-Lingayen Archbishop Socrates Villegas, have criticized the killings attributed to the government's anti-drug campaign.

Cullen said Filipino church leaders had to "take the risk" and "stand by the principles we declare we believe in" such as upholding of human rights.  

"Duterte has threatened the church and called them [the bishops] cowards and hypocrites," Cullen was quoted as saying.

"He has said he knows all the bishops that have mistresses and he will call them out in public one day, so I think the institutional church is a bit intimidated," he added.

Acknowledging that it was "a difficult time" for critics of Duterte to be "open and critical," Cullen said that members of the clergy had "to stand by the principles we declare we believe in."

The media's challenge to the war on drugs was giving people a "little more courage," but church leaders had to "take the risk" despite the dangers, he said.

Cullen in a speech last November described the country's situation as "grave."

"The truth is that state-sanctioned executions of young people suspected of being drug users or dealers has reached a high of about 3,500 murdered since June 30. The killing goes on," Cullen was quoted as saying in the NCR report on December 16.

"We have to take a stand against these violations and stand for the value of life and due process of law and the principle that all are innocent until proven guilty," he added.

"Otherwise, not only are more suspects vulnerable but we are all vulnerable if death squads are allowed to have their murderous way," Cullen said.

Cullen also raised the general acceptance of the bloody war on drugs, an assertion validated by a recent Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey that showed eight out of 10 Filipinos were satisfied with it.

"Too many Filipinos believe it is OK for the death squads and police to kill the 'suspects.' Anyone can be branded as a 'suspect' and disappeared. It is the end of a country if the rule of law and due process are ignored and the judicial system, faulty as it is, bypassed," Cullen said.

"Education on the constitutional right to life and freedom is more vital than ever to save the dignity of people," he added.

The Irish priest, however, praised Villegas, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, for releasing in September a pastoral statement, which called on the people not to stay silent about reports of unexplained killings of drug suspects.

Cullen was ordained in 1969 and has been based in the Philippines ever since, according to the report. —Virgil Lopez/NB, GMA News