Deadly Philippine drug war wages on social media

Bishop, award-winning priest take on internet trolls in bid to combat killings in Duterte’s narcotics campaign

Argentinean Father Luciano Ariel Felloni of Novaliches Diocese accepts the 2017 Social Media Influencer of the Year at the 3rd Catholic Social Media Awards in Manila. (Photo by Joe Torres)

UCAN Joe Torres, Manila Philippines November 21, 2017

A Catholic bishop in Manila and an Argentinean priest in an urban poor community in the Philippine capital are using social media to draw attention to drug-related killings in the country.

Father Luciano Ariel Felloni of Novaliches Diocese said that through social media he was able to explain the contribution of the church in the government’s war against narcotics.

The priest, who is known for his “healing not killing” community-based rehabilitation program for drug addicts, was named “Social Media Influencer of the Year” at the 2017 Catholic Social Media Awards.

Father Felloni is one of several church leaders who have become the target of online criticism because of their vocal opposition to the killings of suspected drug users and dealers.

“By using social media to explain that our work has no political color, and that it is our contribution to the war against drugs, people change their opinion, they understand,” said the priest.

He added, however, that trolls are different. “They are paid to attack,” said the priest.

“Ignore the trolls, it’s obvious that they are fake,” said the priest. He emphasized, however, that people of other opinions should also be heard.

A “troll” is internet slang for somebody who sows discord by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community.

In a discussion at the 6th Catholic Social Media Summit before the awards night on Nov. 18, Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan said so-called trolls shoot the messenger and ignore the message.

Suspected trolls have been attacking Catholic Church leaders who have been vocal against the government’s war on drugs. Bishops and priests have been accused corruption and sex abuses.

“The truth hurts,” said Bishop David, “but it sets the people free.”

Both Father Felloni and Bishop David said that instead of shying away from the so-called trolls and those who attack the church online, Catholics must look at it as an opportunity.

“If you don’t react to these statements, soon they become like Gospel truth,” said the prelate. “Truth has become a more serious concern in the context of so much untruth in things that we hear or read.”

“Don’t allow yourself to be intimidated,” said Bishop David, adding that online bashing will always be there but good work must continue “because people are interested in the truth.”

He said he uses social media to correct “ soundbites that are quickly accepted if they are not corrected.” The prelate said the result is “death of the conscience” if a lie is accepted as truth.

“As a church leader, I would feel amiss in my leadership if I allow the consciences of people to die,” Bishop David told about 600 mostly young people, who attended the social media summit.

The prelate said that through the use of social media people responded to his diocese’s program for the poor, including the families of victims of extrajudicial killings.

“God works also through social media. That’s also a forum for truth and empathy,” he said. “That’s what empathy is also about. It leads to compassion.”

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