Under Davao bishop as new CBCP president
THE move by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) to elect Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles indicates that the Philippine Church might take a non-confrontational position in dealing with the mercurial President Rodrigo Duterte, an analyst said on Sunday.
Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform, said the CBCP likely wanted to tone down the word war between leaders of the Church and the President, who have repeatedly clashed over the government’s bloody drug war and alleged human rights violations.
“The Church may have realized that it cannot just publicly criticize the President because he will really retaliate and everyone knows the manner in which he responds to critics,” Casiple said.
On Saturday, the CBCP followed tradition and raised Valles, vice president to outgoing CBCP president Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, to the presidency of the influential bishops’ conference during its semiannual plenary in Manila.
Valles will take over in December from Villegas, who had been in Duterte’s crosshairs amid the Church hierarchy’s criticism of the government’s bloody drug war.
While Villegas enjoys good relations with the Aquino family, Valles is close to the Dutertes. Valles baptized the President’s newest grandson, Marko Digong “Stonefish” Duterte Carpio, in March.
It was Valles who announced in December 2015 that the Vatican had replied to Duterte’s letter seeking forgiveness for hurling expletives at the Pope. Valles and Duterte later met in Davao City with the latter promising to donate P1,000 to charity for every expletive hurled.
Valles was born on July 10, 1951 in Maribojoc, Bohol. He got his bachelor of arts in philosophy degree and his degree in theology from St. Francis Xavier Regional Major Seminary in Davao City.
On April 6, 1976, Valles was ordained priest of Tagum, Philippines. He was appointed bishop of Kidapawan in June 1997.
In November 2006, Valles, at the age of 55, he was appointed archbishop of Zamboanga. He became archbishop of Davao in 2012.
Valles had been CBCP vice president since December 2013.
‘New day of peace’
Malacañang cheered the election of Valles, who, as Davao prelate, has spiritual charge over President Duterte, a long-time mayor of Davao City before becoming Chief Executive.
Valles’ election as CBCP president signals a “new day of peace,” the Palace said on Sunday.
“Our warm congratulations to Archbishop Valles as he leads the faithful in the country towards developing a deeper spiritual life and for the Church to have a more open dialogue and cooperation with the government, especially in working for the poor and the marginalized,” Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said.
“The new CBCP head from Davao signals a new day of peace for a multi-cultural Philippines. His familiarity with Davao and Mindanao would augur well as we promote interfaith dialogue and intercultural understanding as part of our efforts to rebuild Marawi and to transform Mindanao into a land of fulfillment,” Abella added.
This was not the first time a Mindanao prelate is in charge of the CBCP, however. The most prominent of former CBCP presidents still active in the Church is Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Cardinal Quevedo, a leading figure in the Christian-Muslim dialogue. He was CBCP president from 1999 to 2003.
Aside from Valles, the CBCP on Saturday elected Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David as vice president, Palo, Leyte Archbishop John Du as treasurer, and Fr. Marvin Mejia as secretary general.
Retired archbishop Oscar Cruz said there was “nothing magical or mystical” over Valles’ election, saying it was the CBCP’s tradition to promote the vice president to the top position.
The outspoken former Lingayen-Dagupan prelate said the CBCP plenary’s decision was a mere formality or standard operating procedure.
Last year, Cruz, expressed alarm over Valles’ impending election to the presidency of the bishops’ conference, noting that the latter was “rather close” to Duterte.
“The closeness is nothing to do with what is right or wrong. It will have a relevance on how CBCP will look at the overall value of the actuation of the president of the republic,” Cruz told the ABS-CBN News Channel last year.
On Sunday, Cruz told The Manila Times it was Valles’ call if he wanted to be less critical of Duterte.
“If he (Valles) will be less critical of the President, that’s his call. But he cannot decide alone for the CBCP. The collective decision always comes from the CBCP Permanent Council,” he said.
“If the President has a Cabinet, the CBCP Permanent Council is its equivalent,” he added.
Fr. Jerome Secillano, executive secretary of the CBCP public affairs committee, said that the election of Valles would not change the stand of the Church on key issues.
“I don’t think that it will change the Church stand on human rights violations, injustices committed, unemployment and environmental issues, among others,” he said.
He stressed that the new CBCP president should always make a distinction between his stand as archbishop of Davao and his stand as president of the conference.
“If you noticed, [outgoing CBCP president Soc Villegas]always made a distinction between what he said as president of the CBCP and what he said as archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan,” Secillano said.
Better relations seen
Duterte and the CBCP have been at odds because of the President’s pronouncements on issues that matter to the Catholic Church such as birth control, human rights and the restoration of the death penalty.
The President’s first brush was with no less than Pope Francis himself whom he blamed and cursed for the traffic congestion he allegedly caused when he came to the Philippines in 2015.
In April, Villegas disclosed that an initial dialogue between some members of the Duterte Cabinet and the bishops transpired and made a breakthrough. Among the issues both parties agreed to work on together were support for the poor, the empowerment of Mindanao, and the pursuit of peace negotiations with rebel groups.
Casiple said Valles’ election as CBCP head was a good development because the prelate and the President know each other personally, and that relationship could help address issues between the Palace and the bishops.
The change in the CBCP leadership should result in better relations between the Duterte administration and the Catholic Church, he said, even as the Church was expected to continue protesting drug-related killings and the planned reinstatement of the death penalty.
WITH LLANESCA T. PANTI AND WILLIAM B. DEPASUPIL