MANILA, Philippines – Doing their rounds on Nov 17, 2012, patrolling police and barangay officials in Barangay Pamplona Dos in Las Piñas City observed a Hyundai car moving at a snail’s pace along Libra Street.
It was around 10:30 pm, and the patrolling group, which had grown suspicious, decided to follow the Hyundai, which stopped at a dimly lit corner of the street.
When they peered into the vehicle, they saw the driver in a tight embrace with another – a woman. The driver immediately went out of the vehicle to confront the patrolling officers.
Introducing himself as Fr Gerald “Gerry” Mascariña, the priest brusquely told the patrolling officers that he was just helping the woman with her studies. Unimpressed with the cleric’s explanation and offended by his rudeness, the patrolling officers invited Mascariña and his companion to the barangay hall.
At the barangay hall, Mascariña – the parish priest of San Roque de Alabang Parish in the neighboring city of Muntinlupa – was in a hurry to leave the place and his female companion.
He left his ID and ordered the barangay officials to “just send home” his companion.
He came back a few minutes later, to retrieve his ID from the barangay officials.
The incident was recorded in the barangay logbook and was kept under wraps for some months. Then one parishioner got hold of the incident and secured the logbook report. (Rappler has a copy of the barangay logbook report).
It was not the first time that Mascariña – also the treasurer of the Parañaque diocese under Bishop Jesse Mercado – was caught by patrolling police and barangay officials.
Nilo Natanauan, a former Parish Pastoral Council (PPC) president of San Roque de Alabang, told Rappler that he was able to talk to barangay captain Baby Villalon, who confirmed that it was the 4th time that the priest was apprehended.
The cleric was able to avoid being reported in the blotter because of Villalon’s intervention, Natanauan said. “She said Fr Mascariña was a family friend. She pleaded with the patrolling officers to let go of Fr Mascariña.”
However, the patrolling officers had had enough. When Natanauan asked the barangay officials why they decided to record the incident in the blotter this time, they replied, “Maangas at baka sila baligtarin (He was rude and they were worried he might turn the tables [on the barangay and police patrols]).”
Rappler sent emails and text messages to Mascariña to get his side of the story. We also called his personal mobile phone number several times, but our calls went unanswered. As of this posting, he has not returned our calls. When we called his parish on Monday, June 17, we were told he was attending a seminar, giving a retreat. His cellphone was also unattended.
On March 22 this year, 10 lay leaders led by Natanauan sent Parañaque Bishop Mercado a letter expressing their concern over the November incident. They asked for an audience with him.
“We are extremely saddened by this scandalous incident because of the negative repercussions in our parish and its parishioners,” the letter said. “We hope that you will give this your top priority before any further damage this report might bring.”
But Mercado ignored the request. (The Parañaque diocese covers the cities of Paranaque, Las Piñas, and Muntinlupa.)
A month later, on April 22, the lay leaders sent a second letter to Mercado, “reiterating our earnest request in our first letter to grant us audience to discuss this matter with you – giving it your priority – before it caused any further damage.”
This time, the parishioners also sent copies of their letter to Apostolic Nuncio Giuseppe Pinto and Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle.
The strategy worked. On May 1, Mercado, together with Monsignor Allen Aganon, met with 7 of the concerned parishioners.
Before the meeting began, they handed down to Mercado a letter asking for the removal of Mascariña as their parish priest on 3 grounds:
- the incident report that Fr Mascariña was caught in a scandalous incident inside his car with a certain girl
- his failure to set up the parish financial council in San Roque de Alabang
- his failure to activate the PPC since he assumed office there in early 2012
However, Natanauan said Mercado refused to acknowledge the letter and asked Monsignor Aganon to receive it in his behalf.
During the meeting, Mercado practically acted as counsel for Mascariña and even questioned the motive of the barangay officials, Natanauan said. Mercado told the group that he confronted Mascariña about the incident and refuted the contents of the logbook. Moreover, the bishop even praised Mascariña for showing his ID to the apprehending officers.
One parishioner, Lutgardo Regulla, a former vice president of the PPC, echoed Natanauan’s assertion that Mascariña is a chronic offender. He added that he and Natanauan personally talked with the barangay captain who had confirmed that this was the priest’s 4th encounter with barangay officials.
He also informed Mercado that Mascariña had been violating the Canon law for refusing to convene the parish financial council – which is ironic since the priest heads the Commission on Management of Resources of the Parañaque diocese.
The parishioners also decried the apparent double standard imposed by Mercado on other priests – in particular Fr Didoy Molina, who Mascariña replaced after rumors spread that he was allegedly involved with a woman. Molina has been on floating status ever since.
Protective Parañaque bishop?
In the meeting, Mercado “concluded” that there was merely “lack of communication” between the cleric and the parishioners. He assured them that he would look into the barangay incident involving Mascariña.
But the parishioners knew that Mercado would not lift a finger to investigate one of his favored priests.
Last May 13, they wrote the Papal Nuncio, complaining that Mercado “is no longer a listening bishop” and, as a result, “our community is hurting.”
Instead of appreciating their effort, the parishioners said, “We were browbeaten into admitting that our approach was wrong…even to the extent of questioning the integrity and how the [logbook] report was worded.”
The letter continued, “We are worried that his inaction on the case at bar would only further create dissension and distrust in his leadership and put his administration into serious scrutiny.”
Already, some parishioners and lectors “felt demeaned by this report and this had taken a toll on their spirituality. Now they started avoiding masses officiated by Fr Mascariña. Will Bishop Mercado and the rest of our Church authorities wait for his scenario to multiply?” they told the Nuncio.
Natanauan said Mascariña’s case had also sown dissension between the parish staff allied with the priest and lay leaders. In one incident, some parish staff wore T-shirts with the message: “Ang plastic nire-recyle, hindi inuugali, gets mo? (Plastic is recycled, and not an imbibed attitude, you get it?)” – Rappler.com