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Duterte staffer tells clergy to leave Balangiga plaza – priest

By: - Reporter / @CMarquezINQ
/ 10:59 PM December 15, 2018
Balangiga schoolchildren welcoming church bells

Schoolchildren in Balangiga wave paper cutouts of church bells to welcome the return of the historic Balangiga bells to their town on Friday. The bells were taken as war booty by American troops in 1901 to avenge the death of 48 US soldiers killed in a local uprising. (Photo by LYN RILLON / Philippine Daily Inquirer)

MANILA, Philippines — A staffer of President Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday allegedly ordered priests and bishops to leave the Balangiga Town Plaza before his arrival for the turnover of the Balangiga bells, Fr. Edmel Raagas, one of the priest present at the event, said,

“Priests, including the Borongan bishop and the Apostolic Nuncio, were initially told to go out of the Balangiga plaza, minutes before the President arrived,” Raagas told INQUIRER.net in a text message.

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Raagas also said the instruction was from the “Presidential Management Staff.”

When the bishops and priests insisted on getting to their seats, Raagas said a member from the Presidential Management Staff asked them to transfer at the back because of the President’s issues on the priests.

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The bishops and priests went back to their seats.

“Later, two priests including myself were instructed by PMS to transfer to the seats at the back ‘kasi alam niyo naman may issues ang presidente sa inyo’,” Raagas said.

Earlier, Duterte attended the turnover of the historic church bells in Balangiga, Samar.

The bells were finally returned to the Philippines, 117 years after it was taken by American soldiers as booty during the Philippine-American War in 1901.

In a statement posted on its official Facebook page, the Diocese of Borongan confirmed the incident, saying the President allowed only Archbishop Romulo Valles of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines to be in the area.

Priests, including the Borongan bishop, the Archbishop of the Military Ordinariate (AMS) of the United States, and the…

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Posted by Diocese of Borongan on Saturday, December 15, 2018

“Priests, including the Borongan bishop and the Apostolic Nuncio, were earlier told to go out of the Balangiga plaza. Duterte only wants Archbp. Valles to be in the area,” the post said.

The Diocese of Borongan said the President even asked priests of Balangiga to remove their collars and chairs were used to shield the view of the priests.

“Some priests were even asked to remove their Roman collars so as not to offend the President. Also, chairs were placed in front of the priests to cover them,” the statement read.

Duterte has been criticizing the Catholic Church during his speeches — at one time even threatening to kill them.

READ: Another joke? Duterte says Catholic bishops useless… kill them

However, Raagas said they refused to follow the order, saying they “carry in our hearts the joys and pains of the flock that we represent in that program who waited 117 years for the return of those bells owned by the Church.”

Because of this, Raagas said chairs were placed in front of them “to cover them from the view of the President.”

Despite incident, Raagas said they were still grateful that the bells had been returned to Balangiga.

“That was okay for us: We were so humble before the gift of the bells to be received,” he said. /atm

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TAGS: Balangiga bells, bishops, Edmel Raagas, priests, Rodrigo Duterte
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