Palace to CBCP: There's a reign of peace, not terror

MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang on Sunday, February 5, fired back at the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), after the Church leaders denounced what they described as the "reign of terror" in President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs.

"The officials of the CBCP are apparently out of touch with the sentiments of the faithful who overwhelmingly support the changes in the Philippines – turning the nation into a safer place for families, working people, especially young night shift workers, far from the 'terror' the bishops paint rather dramatically," said Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella in a statement on Sunday.

Abella added that there is no reign of terror in the Philippines, but a "reign of peace." (READ: Impunity: The Church of the Resistance)

"The efforts of these Church leaders might be put to better use in practical catechetics that build strong moral character among the faithful, and so contribute more to the reign of peace felt by ordinary citizens everywhere, especially those who are innocent of illegal activities," Duterte's spokesman said.

CBCP president Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas earlier released a pastoral letter against extrajudicial killings being linked to Duterte's anti-drug campaign – the CBCP's strongest statement yet. (READ: FULL TEXT: CBCP pastoral letter on drug-related deaths)

"We, your bishops, are deeply concerned due to many deaths and killings in the campaign against prohibited drugs," Villegas said on behalf of the CBCP, adding that the "reign of terror" is occurring in "many places of the poor."

He also said that the Catholic Church "will help drug addicts" and also "stand in solidarity" with "the victims of drug addicts." (READ: Church in Bulacan runs 27-year-old drug rehab program)

Duterte has often lashed out at Catholic priests and bishops for their supposed hypocrisy, questioning why they condemn his war on drugs when they themselves commit sins. (READ: Duterte to Church: Help, don't criticize drug war)

In late January, Abella also suggested that religious leaders reach out to Duterte instead of preaching from their "moral high horse." (READ: Duterte to priests, cardinals: 'Try' shabu to understand drug problem)

More than 7,000 deaths have been linked to Duterte's war on drugs since July 1, 2016.

A Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey conducted last December also showed that 78% of Filipinos are worried they could be the next victims of extrajudicial killings. (READ: Senators: SWS poll proves Filipinos feel scared, unsafe under Duterte)

Last January 30, Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa ordered all cops to stop anti-drug operations nationwide, while the police force focuses on weeding out erring cops. (READ: Task force vs police scalawags: What we know so far– Rappler.com