Philippines: Major Christian Group Breaks With Duterte

Felipe Villamor
171027_PHILIPPINES_DRUGS-620.jpg Abi Escudero, widow of Ephraim Escudero, 18, who was found dead with his hands tied behind his back and a packing tape wrapped around his head, mourns over his coffin during his funeral in San Pedro city, south of Manila, Sept. 30, 2017.

One of the largest Christian evangelical groups in the Philippines openly broke away from President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday, calling on him to stop his “murderous” war on drugs that has raised international concerns.

Eddie Villanueva, head of the four million-member Jesus is Lord (JIL) movement, expressed “grave concern” over killings in counter-narcotics operations and the alleged involvement of high-ranking officials in drug trafficking.

He apparently was alluding to a recent Senate investigation where Duterte’s son, Paolo, was accused by an opposition senator of protecting drug syndicates involved in the shipment of $125 million worth of drugs through the customs bureau. Paolo has repeatedly denied the allegations.

President Duterte has surprisingly stayed silent on the issue, but was forced to have his son and son-in-law testify at a Senate inquiry led by his allies.

While Duterte has implemented some “beneficial programs,” including free tuition fees in universities, increased public health insurance coverage, and a nationwide smoking ban, his policy against drugs “should not be at the expense of the rule of law,” Villanueva said.

“We would also like to remind everyone of the 6th commandment – Thou shall not murder. No one has the right to take another person’s life,” Villanueva told reporters at the 39th anniversary celebration of the JIL movement.

He was joined in his call by the Philippines for Jesus Movement (PJM) and the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC), two of the largest non-Catholic organizations in the country.

A force in the Philippines

Villanueva’s group is considered as a political force in the Philippines, Asia’s bastion of Catholicism. Like the Catholic Church, it wields tremendous influence on its flock, including on electoral decisions.

His son, Joel Villanueva, won a senate seat last year and is a member of the majority allied with Duterte.

The elder Villanueva has been an avid supporter of Duterte. During last year’s bruising presidential campaign, he publicly endorsed the president’s candidacy.

He said Duterte had promised to uphold God’s agenda for the country, if he won the presidency, and vowed an “adherence to due process and rule of law.”

“We support the President’s resolve to address the widespread drug problem. But not at the expense of due process,” Villanueva said. “We should not call on wrath to the country by closing our eyes on these injustices.”

Villanueva became the latest critic of Duterte’s anti-drugs war, after the Catholic Church, which has been tolling its bells at nighttime to protest the killings.

The recent killings of three teenagers among thousands of alleged suspects gunned down by the police has also served to galvanize the opposition, eventually forcing Duterte to rein in the police.

More than 12,000 alleged drug dealers and users have been killed in the drug war, according to the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates. This is higher than the 3,800 count by the police.

To put that into perspective, that figure is far greater than the estimated 3,200 activists who died during the 20-year authoritarian regime of Ferdinand Marcos, who was ousted by a popular uprising in 1986.

The campaign has courted intense international criticism, and is also beginning to be felt in the economy.

Villanueva said the Philippine peso’s continued slide to about 51.80 to the U.S. dollar – compared with a high of 47 to the greenback when Duterte came to power in June last year –  should be a cause for worry.

“For those who understand economics, this is very alarming,” Villanueva said.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.