Panelo on Balangiga ceremony 'incident': Not Duterte's style
MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang denied on Sunday, December 16, that President Rodrigo Duterte ordered Catholic Church leaders and priests to leave during the turnover of the historic Balangiga Bells.
Duterte witnessed the official handover of the Balangiga Bells in Eastern Samar on Saturday, December 15.
Presidential Spokesperson and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said on Sunday that such an incident is "absolutely out of the President's character nor his style."
"If it indeed happened, then the same is not authorized and such unethical conduct cannot be sanctioned by [the President]. It could have been done by someone who represented himself or herself as a staff from the PMS (Presidential Management Staff)," Panelo said.
Duterte's spokesman said Malacañang is now looking into the allegation. But he added that he personally did not see clergymen being asked to leave the venue.
The priests, added Panelo, were seated in the same spot before and after Duterte arrived.
"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 (Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines) president whom I talked to just before the President arrived at the ceremonial place," Panelo said.
He also noted that Duterte approached Apostolic Nuncio Gabriele Giordano Caccia and CBCP president Romulo Valles when he arrived, and acknowledged their presence in his prepared speech. Valles, the archbishop of Davao, is a longtime friend of Duterte.
In a Facebook post, the Diocese of Borongan in Eastern Samar had claimed that priests, including Caccia and Borongan Bishop Crispin Varquez, "were earlier told to go out of the Balangiga plaza."
News reports quoted Father Edmel Raagas as saying that the PMS relayed the instructions because Duterte "has issues with the Church." (READ: 'Kill bishops, all they do is criticize,' says Duterte)
But Panelo said Duterte "even mentioned in his speech that the Filipino nation is one with the Diocese of Borongan" in celebrating the return of the Balangiga Bells. (READ: Joy as U.S.-seized bells return to Philippine church)
"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," Panelo said.
All 3 bells were brought to Eastern Samar on December 14 for the handover. – Rappler.com