Gov’t investigating reports that priests were told to leave during Balangiga bells’ turnover

Balangiga Bells at Villamor Airbase. Photo: Screenshot from ABS-CBN News.
Balangiga Bells at Villamor Airbase. Photo: Screenshot from ABS-CBN News.

Controversy followed the historic Balangiga bells, right up to the day it was turned over to the Catholic Church.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said yesterday that the government is investigating a Facebook post which said that some priests were told by government staff to leave the town plaza during the bells’ turnover on Saturday in Balangiga in Eastern Samar.

The turnover of the three bells was attended by President Rodrigo Duterte, who has repeatedly criticized members of the Catholic Church.

The investigation was launched after a post appeared on the Facebook account of the Diocese of Borongan which said that Duterte only wanted Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) President Romulo Valles to witness the turnover rights.

The Diocese has jurisdiction over the bells.

The post read: “Priests, including the Borongan bishop, the Archbishop of the Military Ordinariate (AMS) of the United States, and the Apostolic Nuncio, were earlier told to go out of the Balangiga plaza. Duterte only wants Archbp. [Romulo] Valles to be in the area. There was even the suggestion to the priests present to remove their Roman collars so as not to offend the President. Also, chairs were placed in front of the priests to cover them.”

Panelo, who said that he was at the turnover, said that he did not notice the alleged incident occurring, reported GMA News.

In an interview with DZBB, Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Martin Andanar, who was also present at the event, also said he did not see anyone telling clergymen to leave the town plaza during the turnover.

Special Assistant to the President Christopher “Bong” Go also denied that the incident occurred, according to ABS-CBN. He said that Duterte even shook hands with some of the clergymen before he went up on stage.

Panelo’s statement said: “It is absolutely out of the President’s character nor his style to cause mortifications during an event. If it indeed happened, then the same is not authorized and such unethical conduct cannot be sanctioned by PRRD (Duterte).”

It added: “All went well and only the uproarious rejoicing of the Balangiga people and the guests who attended was the contaminating mood at the gathering.”

The bells were the subject of controversy shortly after they arrived from South Korea and the United States when Senator Miguel Zubiri filed a Senate resolution asking the government to loan one of the bells to the National Museum ((NM).

However, the Diocese of Borongan rejected his suggestion, saying that his resolution “does violence to history and the sacred character and purpose of the Balangiga Bells.”

The NM’s director Jeremy Barns said the Diocese refusal to loan the bells is “understandable” but said their statement was worded provocatively.

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