MANILA -- Police officers who want to speak out about "extrajudicial killings and summary executions" in President Rodrigo Duterte's drug war have been offered sanctuary and legal help by the Catholic Church.
Human rights groups accuse Duterte of waging a crime against humanity as he seeks to eradicate illegal drugs in society in a crackdown that has claimed thousands of lives since he took office in the middle of last year.
The Catholic Church, which counts 80 percent of Filipinos as followers, has been one of the leading critics of the drug war and its offer to police on Monday was another step in its efforts to stop the killings.
Unnamed "law enforcers" with troubled consciences have approached the Church over the killings, Archbishop Socrates Villegas, the president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, said in a pastoral letter.
"They have expressed their desire to come out in the open about their participation in extrajudicial killings and summary executions," he said without naming the officers or the victims.
"Within the bounds of Church and civil laws, we express our willingness to grant them accommodation, shelter and protection," he said, adding that the offer will also be extended to independent lawyers.
"If such law-enforcers wish to testify, then the Catholic Church will see to it that they are in no way induced to speak, to disclose nor to make allegations by any member of the clergy or the hierarchy."
The Philippine police did not respond to AFP's requests for comment.
Duterte's government has denied that killing drug suspects was state policy, but critics allege his frequent public pronouncements on the drug war were direct inducements to kill.
Duterte, who remains popular, has said he was "happy to slaughter" three million drug addicts and vowed no officer would go to jail for implementing his drug war.
Villegas last month urged his flock to speak out against the "systematic murders and spreading reign of terror" that he said were unleashed by the drug war.
Catholic bishops played leading roles in peaceful street protests that led to the ousting of two Philippine presidents, Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 and Joseph Estrada in 2001. (AFP)