When the prophetic voice of Father Picx spoke out

By Fr. Shay Cullen, SSC

The Filipino people, and especially the Christian churches have to take a truthful examination of conscience when faced with the shocking truth that at least 30,000 Filipinos were victims of summary execution, and many more suffered harsh imprisonment without due process when the rule of law was ignored during the Duterte administration. It was not unknown;, it was announced by the candidate before the election of 2016. “I will kill them all,” he declared, and the people wildlycheered giving full assent to the possible program of extermination of drug suspects. Christian values were nowhere to be seen.

These days, the extent of that murderous rampage is coming to light. Some may dispute the figures of 30,000 or more killed, but the presidential archive for the period from July 1, 2016 to November. 27, 2017, shows that as many as 20,322 drug suspects were shot, stabbed and killed. in only 17 months.

This official government document, presented to the House Committee on Human Rights by human rights lawyer Chel Diokno, reveals a death toll much higher than the government’s estimates of 12,000 deaths. “But there is one number that is unassailable because this comes from the Office of the President and was cited in an extended resolution of the Supreme Court, and that number is 20,322 persons killed in the war on drugs,” Diokno said. “This is found in the 2017 year-end accomplishment report of the Office of the President and cited in the resolution of the Supreme Court of April 3, 2018,” he added. 

According to the Office of the President report,  of the 20,322 killed, “3,967 Filipinos were killed by police in police operations,” while 16,355 were “killed by riding in tandem and other unknown persons.” This information was reported by the Manila Times on June 6, 2024.

How could it happen in a Catholic Country, as writers like to call the Philippines, where the dignity and sanctity of human life is supposed to be held at the pinnacle of moral values? A right to life for all to be protected and fought for come what may. Yet there was but a feeble response from the institutional Catholic church hierarchy and other Christian churches. The Christian churches in general remained silent.

There was no national outrage as the bodies piled up and “death squads” went around shooting and killing with impunity, continuing with state-sanctioned support and encouragement. There were no massive church-inspired and led processions of protest for justice, peace, and human life. There was no blocking of streets and highways like the EDSA uprising, challenging the evil of government-supported death squads and mass killings. The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, in January 2019,  asked forgiveness from the people for failing to speak out and apologized for their silence and failure to stand for life and oppose attacks against the Church. 

There were the brave few Filipino Catholic priests, Albert Alejo, Robert Reyes, and Flavie Villanueva, along with many others, five courageous bishops, and lay people who risked imprisonment and even death when they spoke out for life. They were isolated and alone. 

There was hope. Among he few brave voices of the prophets of peace was the persistent voice and protest action for human rights and peace of Fr. Amado Picardal, also known as Father Picx. This courageous missionary of the Redemptorists clearly saw the threat to life and the degradation of human dignity. Spoke out and stood against the death squads and the violations of human rights. 

Father Picx was a light that shone in the darkness of evil, illuminating the truth of what was happening. Like his friend, Jesus of Nazareth, the washer of feet, challenger of corrupt authority, and supporter of the poor and oppressed, Father Picx bravely did the same. A true servant of the poor, he stood with the vulnerable, the victims, and their families. He denounced the killings of suspects, documented many atrocities, and brought together information gathered by the members of the Coalition Against Summary Execution (CASE). Is facts and findings were adopted by the International Criminal Court in their on-going investigation of former President Rodrigo Duterte. Father Picx died peacefully at his hermitage in Cebu last 29 May 2024.

Some brave Christians, who believed that truth and justice would overcome evil continued to speak against the forces of evil. These good people stood against the tyranny of killings. Father Flavie Villanueva was quoted as saying at the time “What’s left to be seen is the change of heart, is that collective voice on how to specifically respond to the growing evil.”  Father Albert Alejo said, “Ffrom the top down, the clergy has been intimidated into silence.”, noting that some clergy and religious supported the president.

Today, there is a history of shame, a collective sin of allowing evil to thrive, and goodness to be ignored. , A great social sin hangs over the institution with even child abusing priests being protected. There was great moral corruption in society that was duped into believing whatever they were and are told to believe through social media. They blindly and foolishly believed the politician who said he will give them a better life, free from crime. Yet, more and greater crimes were committed. They had released a terrible tiger from its cage, the death squad. May good people take action so that it will never happen again.