By Argyll Cyrus Geducos
Malacañang denied that priests were ordered to leave the ceremonial turnover of the Balangiga bells Saturday, saying it would be out of President Duterte’s character to make such order.
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo made the statement after the Diocese of Borongan said in a Facebook post that priests, including the Borongan bishop, the Archbishop of the Military Ordinariate of the United States, and the Apostolic Nuncio Gabriele Caccia, were told by a member of the Presidential Management Staff (PMS) to go out of the Balangiga Plaza.
The Diocese also claimed that Duterte only wanted Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) president Archbishop Romulo Valles in the area. It was said that priests who were present were suggested to remove their Roman collars so as not to offend the President.
In a statement, Panelo said they are now looking into the said complaint. However, he said he personally did not see any incident during the event that may indicate that such gesture happened.
“The news report quoting a Balangiga priest that a member of the Presidential Management Staff (PMS) asked some of the members of the Catholic clergy present in yesterday’s turnover of the Balangiga bells to leave the event before the President’s arrival is being probed,” he said.
“I was present at the Balangiga turnover ceremonies before and after the President’s arrival at the venue but I did not see any occurrence as described nor hear any complaint coming from the Apostolic Nuncio and the CBCP president,” he added.
According to Panelo, it is out of President Duterte’s character to make such order. However, he said that if such incident really happened, it was not instructed by the President.
“It is absolutely out of the President’s character nor his style to cause mortifications during an event,” he said.
“If it indeed happened, then the same is not authorized and such unethical conduct cannot be sanctioned by PRRD. It could have been done by someone who represented himself or herself as a staff from the PMS,” he added.
The Palace official then pointed out that the priests, including Caccia and Valles, were seated in the same place before, during, and after the program. He also said Duterte even exchanged pleasantries with them and acknowledged their presence in his remarks.
“The Chief Executive even mentioned in his speech that the Filipino nation is one with the Diocese of Borongan in celebrating this historic event. All went well and only the uproarious rejoicing of the Balangiga people and the guests who attended was the contaminating mood at the gathering,” Panelo said.
“This is a time when all Filipinos, regardless of political affinity or religious outlook, come together and rejoice an event which we had long sought – and hoped for,” he added.
Panelo then said the Palace will not allow such allegations to spoil the momentous return of the Balangiga bells to their origin, 117 years after they were taken by American soldiers as war booty in September 1901.
“We will not allow such a reported unwanted incident to spoil this momentous occasion. The tolling of the Balangiga Bells ushers in a call of unity and peace among us Filipinos. We can only respond in heartfelt approbation,” he said.
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 bishops should be killed because they know nothing but criticize the government.