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Philippine Catholic Diocese Calls Attention To 'War On Drugs' Casualties

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Turning now to the Philippines, police and vigilantes have killed thousands of people since Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte launched his war on drugs last year. That has the Catholic Church there sounding an alarm or, in this case, bells. The church is ringing bells every night for the next three months. I spoke with Pablo Virgilio David. He's a bishop in Caloocan, which is near the capital, Manila. I asked him if he thought the government was even listening.

PABLO VIRGILIO DAVID: I think the only proof that they're listening is if they put a stop to this brutal drug war, you know. That is why we have resorted to ringing of bells because we could only resort to prayer.

CHANG: There was a 17-year-old boy, Kian Delos Santos, who was shot and killed by police almost two weeks ago. And I understand he was in one of your parishes.

DAVID: Correct. When I learned about the death of this boy, I asked the parish priest to accompany me to the house. And it's a house in the slums, and they asked me to celebrate mass. There was no place in the house at all, so we had to celebrate mass in the street. And the streets were full of people.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELLS RINGING)

DAVID: Excuse me. Are you hearing our bells now?

(SOUNDBITE OF BELLS RINGING)

CHANG: Oh - a little bit, yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELLS RINGING)

DAVID: Every night at 8:00, we ring the bells for about 10 minutes.

CHANG: Wow, 10 minutes.

DAVID: Yes.

CHANG: We listened for a while, and then I turned the conversation back to Kian Delos Santos, whose funeral procession over the weekend drew a massive crowd. Police say the student had ties to the drug trade and that he opened fire on them. I asked Bishop David how the police's explanation has been challenged.

What do the witnesses say about what happened that day?

DAVID: Well, they simply say they saw him being dragged out of his house and brought to a secluded place. And it was there where they manhandled him. And he was bleeding. And he was actually even saying, please, sir - enough - I have an exam tomorrow.

CHANG: But children even younger than Kian have been killed by police in Duterte's war on drugs. What, do you think, is it going to take to change things?

DAVID: I really don't know. All I know is now Kian has awakened people. When it comes close to home and it concerns children who are definitely innocent, people just cannot take it.

CHANG: Do you feel like public opinion against Duterte is really shifting, and then maybe something will change?

DAVID: Well, things are shifting a bit, especially with the poor people who will support the president. Many of these victims are the kind of people who voted for him. The family of Kian are all fans of the president.

CHANG: Really? Even now?

DAVID: Kian himself wanted to be a policeman. He wanted to support the government in its war against drugs. And many other victims who come from the slums, they speak very highly of the president. And now they feel betrayed.

CHANG: Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, thank you very much for speaking with us.

DAVID: You're welcome, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.