Manila: Catholic Church leaders in the Philippines expressed alarm Monday at a sharp rise in police killings of suspected criminals since the election of a firebrand president who has vowed a bloody war on crime.
The influential Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines also denounced signs of vigilantism and the offering of bounties for criminals, following the election on May 9 of Rodrigo Duterte who ran on an anti-crime campaign.
"We are disturbed by an increasing number of reports that suspected drug-peddlers, pushers and others... have been shot, supposedly because they resist arrest," said a statement by Archbishop Socrates Villegas, the head of the conference.
He was responding to national police figures showing that 29 drug suspects were shot dead between May 9 and June 15 -- compared to 39 killed in the previous four months of this year.
The most recent figure does not include eight drug suspects shot dead by police over the past weekend in different parts of the country.
"It is equally disturbing that vigilantism seems to be on the rise," the statement said, citing cases where bodies have been found with signs labelling them as criminals.
The bishops also condemned the practice of at least one city mayor of offering large payments to policemen who kill drug suspects.
"It is never morally permissible to receive reward money to kill another," the statement added.
Their condemnation flies in the face of Duterte`s call to police and even civilians to kill drug criminals.
Duterte has previously been linked to vigilante death squads who killed about 1,000 people when he was longtime mayor of the southern city of Davao.
He has vowed to kill tens of thousands of criminals after he takes office on June 30.
The president-elect has often attacked the Catholic Church, which counts over 80 percent of Filipinos as followers and was instrumental in the toppling of dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.
Duterte has previously labelled Pope Francis as "a son of a whore" and branded the church as a hypocritical institution.
Although he has not yet taken office, a police spokesman previously said that Duterte`s remarks were a possible "motivation" for law-enforcers to crack down on illegal drugs.