Duterte no hand over alleged order for priests to leave during Balangiga bells' turnover rites - Palace
Malacanang is now investigating reports that a personnel of the Presidential Management Staff has asked some Catholic priests present in the turnover of the Balangiga bells in Eastern Samar to leave the event before President Rodrigo Duterte's arrival last Friday.
In a statement, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said that if the incident really happened, it was not sanctioned by the President.
"It is absolutely out of the President's character nor his style to cause mortifications during an event. If it indeed happened, then the same is not authorized and such unethical conduct can not be sanctioned by PRRD. It could have been done by someone who represented himself or herself as a staff from the PMS," he said.
The Diocese of Borongan, on its Facebook page, confirmed the supposed incident wherein some prelates and priests were told to leave the Balangiga plaza.
"Priests, including the Borongan bishop, the Archbishop of the Military Ordinariate (AMS) of the United States, and the Apostolic Nuncio, were earlier told to go out of the Balangiga plaza," it said.
The Diocese said Duterte reportedly only allowed Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, 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," it added.
Duterte has been critical of the Catholic church, as he even said that the bishops should be killed.
Panelo, who was present in the turnover ceremonies last Friday, said that before and after Duterte's arrival at the venue, he did not see any occurrence as described nor hear any complaint coming from the Apostolic Nuncio and the CBCP president whom he talked to just before the President arrived at the ceremonial place.
"The priests were seated in the same place before and after the arrival of PRRD. His Excellency Gabriele Caccia, Apostolic Nuncio of the Philippines and Most Reverend Archbishop Romulo Valles, President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), among others, were seated in the front row and PRRD approached them and exchanged pleasantries with them," he said.
He noted that Duterte even acknowledged the presence of the Catholic church leaders in his brief remarks.
Panelo said Duterte also mentioned in his speech that the Filipino nation is one with the Diocese of Borongan in celebrating the 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. 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 said.
Panelo stressed that the Palace would 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 added.
After 117 years, the United States returned to the Philippines the Balangiga bells, which served as booty during the American-Filipino war in 1901. Celerina Monte/DMS