Tens of thousands of Roman Catholics took to the streets in the Philippines capital Manila on Saturday (18 February), disapproving President Rodrigo Duterte government's plans to reintroduce the death penalty for criminals.

The prayer rally, dubbed a 'Walk for Life', is endorsed by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). Just days earlier, the church strongly condemned Duterte's bloody campaign against illegal drugs.

The organisers said as many as 50,000 people took part in the demonstration, while police estimated that about 10,000 stayed on the streets to hear speeches.

Senator Leila de Lima, who has voiced her strong criticism of Duterte's war on drugs, also took part in the rally. She is facing three drug-related charges against her, which she said were meant to silence her.

"There's no other reason because I'm innocent and not at all involved in the drug trade. I'm here with the people because of our shared thoughts and opinion, and shared views, and shared convictions," she said.

As Duterte's anti-drug campaign became tougher, killing more than 7,600 people since its launch mid last year, the CBCP launched a strongly worded attack on the crackdown earlier this month. It said killing people was not the solution to trafficking of illegal drugs.

The CBCP pastoral letters were reportedly read out at services across the country.

"We cannot teach that killing is wrong by killing those who kill. It also increases the number of killers," Reuters cited CBCP president Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas as saying.

Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle also joined the rally in Manila as he called for strengthening and urged that the country promote the culture of non-violent movements.

Philippine war on drugs protest
Participants join a procession against plans to reimpose death penalty, promote contraceptives and intensify drug war during 'Walk for Life' in Luneta park, metro Manila, Philippines on 18 February 2017 REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

It is thought to be the first time that the church has openly criticised Duterte and his campaign. Out of the 100 million population in the Philippines, nearly 80% are thought to be Catholics.

The presidential palace is yet to comment about the rally.

In the widely-criticised and condemned crackdown on drug pushers and users, more than 2,500 people also died in shootouts during raids and sting operations.

However, both the government and armed forces have denied allegations that extrajudicial killings have taken place. Whereas, the human rights groups claim that many deaths that police had attributed to vigilantes were actually carried out assassins, who allegedly colluded with police.

Philippine war on drugs protest
Just days earlier, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines launched its strongest attack against President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody campaign against illegal drugs REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco