A ranking Malacañang official tried to remove Tacloban City from the itinerary of Pope Francis during his visit to the Philippines in January.
The Pope is scheduled to celebrate Mass on January 17 at the airport in Tacloban, considered to be the bailiwick of the Romualdezes, the family of former First Lady Imelda Marcos.
Thousands were killed in Tacloban after it was battered by the cyclonic winds and storm surge whipped up by Super Typhoon Yolanda last year.
A source in the Palace, who refused to be named for lack of authority to speak on the matter, told The Manila Times on Wednesday that Secretary Herminio Coloma of the Presidential Communications Operations Office did not want the Pope to officiate a Mass at Tacloban’s Daniel Z. Romualdez airport.
“Instead of having the Mass at Tacloban airport, this Palace official wants the Pope to hold the Mass in Palo [Leyte]. The CBCP (Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines), however, did not agree to it,” the source said.
Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, the chairman of the Papal Visit central committee, however said there was no pressure to drop the Pope’s visit in Tacloban.
Mrs. Marcos’ husband, the late President Ferdinand Marcos, was the political archrival of Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr. the father of President Benigno Aquino 3rd.
Senator Aquino was assassinated at Manila’s international airport in 1983.
The mayor of Tacloban is Alfred Romualdez, while his wife, former actress Cristina Gonzales, is a city councilor.
Asked to react on the report, Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez expressed confidence the Pope or the CBCP will not revise the papal itinerary.
“What caught the attention of the Holy Father was the devastation brought by Typhoon Yolanda. He wants to go to ground zero, which is the San Jose district, where many died since it is resided by at least 26,000 people. The public officials should be there to support the Pope’s wishes,” Romualdez told reporters.
Buhay party-list Rep. Joselito Atienza cautioned against putting political color to the papal visit. If he wants to go to Tacloban, let him go there and let’s support him,” Atienza said.
The pope is also scheduled to celebrate Mass at the Manila Cathedral on January 16.
Bishops from several Asian countries will attend the Mass, according to Pasig Bishop Mylo Hubert Vergara, head of CBCP’s Commission on Mass Media.
Some of the bishops had already confirmed their attendance, Vergara said during a papal visit media briefing on Tuesday.
An article on the CBCP website said that among the prelates who confirmed is Brunei Bishop Cornelius Sim.
According to Manila Cathedral Msgr. Nestor Cerbo, only 1,500 slots are reserved for bishops, priests and religious for the Eucharistic celebration with Pope Francis at the cathedral.
The remaining 500 slots will be for lay people needed for the liturgical celebration, including the choir; technical support staff for the sound system and the air conditioning; members of the Presidential Security Group; the first aid team; ushers; and selected members of the media.
Francis will arrive on January 15 and will stay until January 19.
With ROBERTZON F. RAMIREZ