COMMUNICATIONS Secretary Martin Andanar yesterday denied that the staff of President Rodrigo Duterte told the priests and other Catholic officials to leave during the ceremonial turnover of the Balangiga bells in the Eastern Samar town.
Andanar who also attended the turnover ceremonies, said he did not see anyone telling clergymen to leave before the President arrived at the Balangiga Plaza.
“Wala naman akong nakita. Ang nakita ko lang ay pagpasok ni Presidente doon sa gymnasium, kinumusta niya ang kanyang mga Gabinete tapos ‘yung kanyang mga officers sa Armed Forces of the Philippines,” he said.
“Then, kinumusta niya ang mga pari at ‘yung bishop (Archbishop Romulo Valles), taga-Davao ‘di ba? Tapos ‘yung Papal Nuncio, tapos ‘yung isang reverend representing the United States Military,” he added.
Andanar even said the crowd cheered as the President greeted Valles, the Papal Nuncio, and the Archbishop of the Military Ordinariate of the United States.
“Wala naman akong nakitang itinaboy,” he added.
Fr. Edmel Raagas alleged that some priests, Borongan Bishop Crispin Barrete Varquez and Apostolic Nuncio Gabriele Giordano Caccia were told to leave by the Presidential Management Staff.
But Christopher “Bong” Go, former special assistant to the president, denied the allegation, saying that Duterte shook hands with priests, Varquez and Caccia before he went up the stage for the ceremony.
“We were told the President only wants to see Archbishop (Romulo) Valles in the turnover rites,” Raagas told ABS-CBN News.
“When the Nuncio was informed by another bishop to leave, the Nuncio said it would be improper and disrespectful.”
According to a Facebook post on Saturday afternoon by the Diocese of Borongan, Bishop Crispin Varquez of Borongan, the Archbishop of the Military Ordinariate of the United States and the Apostolic Nuncio, were “told to go out” of the Balangiga plaza.
The post also said that Duterte wanted only Valles in the area, while some priests were even allegedly asked to remove their Roman collars so as not to offend the President.
At the same time, chairs were placed in front of the priests “to cover them,” the post said.
But Andanar said this could not be true, as Duterte himself recognized the priests and other clergymen in his speech.
“Kinumusta niya pa nga at ina-announce niya pa nga sa kanyang speech, kumbaga ni-recognize niya pa, in-acknowledge niya ‘yung presence. Hindi ko alam kung bakit may ganyang mga kwento,” Andanar said.
Duterte, during the ceremony on Saturday, witnessed US Deputy Chief of Mission John C. Law hand over the bells’ transfer certificate to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who in turn handed the certificate to Balangiga Mayor Randy Graza.
The bells, which were seized as war trophies by American troops during the Philippine-American War 117 years ago, were kissed and rang by Duterte seven times during the ceremony.
“Nobody but nobody can claim a singular credit for the generous act of the Americans. The bells are returned. The credit goes to the American people and the Filipino people, period,” Duterte said during his speech.
“The bells are returned and it was really because of the fervent prayers of the entire Filipino nation,” he added.