By Argyll Cyrus Geducos
Malacañang has not responded to allegations made by the Diocese of Borongan that members of the Church were told by President Duterte’s staff to leave before the ceremonial turnover of the Balangiga bells Saturday.
Duterte was in Balangiga, Eastern Samar Saturday afternoon to lead the turnover of the historic bells, 117 years after they were taken by American soldiers as war booty in September 1901.
In a Facebook post, the Diocese of Borongan said that priests, including the Borongan bishop, the Archbishop of the Military Ordinariate of the United State, and the Apostolic Nuncio, were told by the Presidential Management Staff (PMS) to leave the Balangiga Plaza where the turnover ceremony will be held.
The Diocese also claimed that Duterte only wanted Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) president Archbishop Romulo Valles in the area. In his speech, Duterte referred to Valles as his personal spiritual counselor.
“Duterte only wants Archbp. Valles to be in the area. There was even the suggestion to the priests present to remove their Roman collars so as not to offend the President. Also, chairs were placed in front of the priests to cover them,” the Diocese alleged.
When sought for comment, Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Martin Andanar, who was present during the event, said that all he saw was Duterte greeting the Archbishop.
“All I saw was the President greeting the archbishop and the other priests present, including the special mention during the speech of PRRD,” Andanar said in a text message.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo has yet to respond to queries made as of press time.
However, in an interview over Super Radyo DZBB, Andanar said that he did not see anything that would suggest that the allegations made by the Diocese.
“Wala naman akong nakita. Ang nakita ko lang ay pagpasok ni Presidente doon sa gymnasium, kinumusta niya ang kanyang mga Gabinete tapos ‘yung kanyang mga officers sa (I did not see anything. What I saw was the President entering the gymnasium, then he greeted the Cabinet and the officers from the) Armed Forces of the Philippines,” he said.
“Then, kinumusta niya ang mga pari at ‘yung bishop (Archbishop Romulo Valles), taga-Davao ‘di ba? Tapos ‘yung Papal Nuncio, tapos ‘yung isang (Then he greeted the priests and Archbishop Valles who’s from Davao, then the Papal Nuncio, and then the) reverend representing the United States Military,” he added.
President Duterte’s has aired sentiments against the Catholic Church, accusing members of the religious institution of rape, molestation, and homophobia. He recently claimed that 80 to 90 percent of priests and bishops are gay men.
He also said that bishops should be killed because they know nothing but criticize the government.