Albay church bells toll to stop killings
By Mar S. Arguelles LEGAZPI CITY --- Church bells continue to toll in all Roman Catholic churches in Albay since December last year in the hope that President Rodrigo Duterte will take action to stop killings in the government’s war against illegal drugs, the spokesperson of the Diocese of Legazpi said the other day. Father Rex Arjona, executive director of Social Action Center (SAC) and spokesperson of the Diocese said the church bell ringing was launched in December last year throughout the 47 parishes in Albay, with the bells ringing every night at 9:00 pm, followed by a “Prayer at Nine” to ask for divine intervention on how and what proper measures the government should take in its war against illegal drug without too much bloodshed. He said he would like to see the government take a concrete action by investigating cases of illegal drug operation where thousands have so far been killed, either because of legitimate police operation or as a result of extra-judicial killings. Arjona, in a phone interview, disclosed the diocese would be advocating for a new approach, dubbed as “Stop killing --- start healing,” where illegal drug victims will be urged to undergo therapeutic rehabilitation so that they will be reintegrated once again in mainstream society. He explained the process of “harm reduction” is among the alternative measures, aside from initiating dialogues between the church, community and the local government on one hand, and the police and anti-narcotics authorities, on the other. In November last year, Bishop Joel Z. Baylon, head of the Diocese of Legazpi, wrote the President a letter asking for an end to EJKs and urging him to investigate and arrest those responsible for the spate of killings. The open letter was read during the Holy Mass in over 47 churches in the province’s 15 towns and three cities. Baylon, in an earlier interview, said the ringing of bells and offering of prayers for enlightenment would continue for as long as it would take. “We encourage our parishes, schools, as well as ecclesial communities, to come together in study groups for prayer, discernment and concerted action,” he said. “Together we can make a difference and significantly reduce this disorder in our midst, and more importantly, work for the betterment of the lives of our people, especially the poor.” “We will ring the bells of our churches and chapels to call our people to prayer, to ask God to bless us all with his grace of mercy and compassion,” the Legazpi Bishop continued. Arjona said members of the diocese are in “full support” of Duterte’s campaign against illegal drugs but what troubles us is the spate of killings obtaining in the country, where the recent victim of the violent anti-drug war was the 17-year-old Kian De Los Santos. In support for the government’s anti-drug campaign, Arjona said the diocese has started implementing “Harong Paglaom” (House of Hope), a community-based rehabilitation program that aims to give coaching for recovery, spiritual guidance and “life skills” training for substance users, in collaboration with local government units, particularly barangays.