THE ARCHBISHOP of Davao, said to be close to President Rodrigo Duterte who is also from Davao, is among the top contenders to replace Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas as president of the influential Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).
Davao prelate Romulo Valles, who baptized Duterte’s latest grandchild Stonefish Duterte-Carpio in March, is vice president to Villegas, who had been at the receiving end of the President’s tirades against Church leaders for their strident opposition to the government’s anti-drug war.
The CBCP will convene this weekend for its biannual plenary assembly to elect a new set of officers who will have a two-year term, according to CBCP News, the conference’s official news service.
Villegas and Valles are on their second and last terms as CBCP president and vice president, respectively, and under the rules, they are ineligible for re-election to the same posts.
Traditionally, the vice president succeeds the president, who is allowed to serve two terms.
But CBCP News quoted Villegas as saying: “Everybody is a candidate. Only those who have been president for two terms are disqualified.”
Previous CBCP presidents who remain active are Cardinal Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato, Archbishop Angel Lagdameo of Jaro and Bishop Nereo Odchimar of Tandag.
The CBCP presidency will be a fitting gift to Valles who will be celebrating his 66th birthday on July 10, a day after the end of the biannual plenary assembly.
Pope Benedict 16th appointed Valles as the fourth archbishop of Davao on May 22, 2012. He replaced Archbishop Fernando Capalla, a former CBCP president.
Valles has another Palace connection – he is a native of Maribojoc, Bohol, where Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco, a key Duterte aide, served as mayor from 2007 to 2016.
Valles, who was ordained priest on April 6, 1976, was chairman of the CBCP Episcopal Commission on the Liturgy and member of the Permanent Committee on the Cultural Heritage of the Church.
The CBCP has 131 members, eighty-three of whom are active.
An outspoken former CBCP chief, retired Lingayen-Dagupan archbishop Oscar Cruz, expressed alarm over Valles’ impending election to the presidency of the bishops’ conference as early as August last year, 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.
Villegas told CBCP News whoever would be chosen to replace him would have the blessing of the Holy Spirit. There will be no campaigning, he said.
“Everybody is a candidate and our belief is the spirit inspires us to write the name of the bishop that he has chosen to be CBCP President,” he added.