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Philippines Church head urges government to 'stop wasting lives' in drug killings

The powerful Catholic Church in the Philippines has raised its voice against the government's brutal war on drugs. More than 80 people have been killed by police in the last week alone.

The head of the influential Catholic Church of the Philippines on Sunday sharply criticized President Rodrigo Duterte's brutal war on drugs that has left dozens of people shot dead in the past week alone.

The police operation in Manila and surrounding areas, dubbed "One Time, Big Time," this week left more than 80 people killed by police.

The scale of the crackdown has brought renewed criticism of Duterte's ruthless war against alleged drug dealers and users, even as the president praised police when they killed 32 drug suspects in a single day this week. 

Among those gunned downed by police over the past week was a 17-year-old whose death caused a public uproar after evidence emerged he may have been framed and killed by police.

The highest-ranking Church official said in a statement, read at all Sunday masses across the predominately Catholic country, that those behind the deaths should stop wasting human lives.

"We knock on the consciences of those who kill even the helpless, especially those who cover their faces with bonnets, to stop wasting human lives," Manila Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle said.

"The illegal drug problem should not be reduced to a political or criminal issue. It is a humanitarian concern that affects all of us," he added.

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Thousands killed 

Duterte has vowed to press on with the signature drug war, which has killed more than 3,500 people in the 14 months since he became president, according to police data.

More than 2,000 people have been killed in drug-related crimes and some 11,000 other people murdered under mysterious circumstances. Critics blame the police for extrajudicial killings and using vigilante groups to go after suspected drug dealers or users.

The government and police deny the allegations.

Several allies of the president have started to voice concern over the scale of the drug war, even as Duterte remains popular and the public largely supports the crackdown.

Senator Jose Victor Ejercito said earlier this week he was "worried that these intensified killings are being used by some rogue police officers, knowing that the president will protect them."

"Killing the poor and powerless is not the solution to the drug problem when tons of methamphetamine are smuggled in," opposition Senator Francis Pangilinan said in a statement earlier this week.

The president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines on Sunday echoed Tagle's criticism and called for church bells to ring every night for 15 minutes over the next three months.

"The sound of the bells is a wake-up call for a nation that no longer knows how to condole with the bereaved, that is cowardly to call out evil. The sound of the bells is a call to stop consenting to the killings!" Archbishop Socrates Villegas said in a statement.

cw/jlw (AFP, AP)

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