Villegas hands over CBCP helm to Davao prelate
Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas ended his four-year term on Thursday as president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), handing over the post to a prelate whom President Duterte is said to be most comfortable with.
Villegas, a friend of the family of the late President Corazon Aquino, was succeeded by Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles, who had once asked former Davao City Mayor Duterte to stop cussing in his speeches.
Members of the clergy took to social media to thank Villegas for his leadership of the body, which spanned the presidency of Mr. Duterte and that of his predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, Mrs. Aquino’s only son.
Fr. Jerome Secillano, executive secretary of the CBCP’s permanent committee on public affairs, cited Villegas’ courage for standing up for his convictions, especially in the age of fake news in social media.
“Thank you for being the voice when everybody was silent, for being brave in the reign of terror, and for speaking the truth in the advent of fake news,” the priest said in a Facebook post.
It was in reference to Villegas’ outspoken views against the spate of extrajudicial killings in the Duterte administration’s war on drugs and the fake news stories attributed to the CBCP.
Villegas was the first high-ranking Church official to condemn the unabated killings of drug suspects in the administration’s drug war.
“From a generation of drug addicts, shall we become a generation of street murderers? [Can] the do-it-yourself justice system assure us of a safer and better future?” he had asked.
A protégé of the late Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin, the 57-year-old Villegas was elected CBCP president in 2013, at the time when the controversial provisions of the reproductive health law was being contested in the Supreme Court.
The prelate has vigorously opposed the law, which the Church had variously described as “antifamily” and “antilife.”
Villegas also spoke out against the hero’s burial for the dictator Ferdinand Marcos in Libingan ng mga Bayani, saying it “insulted the Edsa spirit” that toppled Marcos’ authoritarian regime.
The martial law years, through which Marcos ruled the country with an iron hand, “made many people suffer by arbitrary torture and death.”
“We do not forget this. We will not allow that this be forgotten by the future generations in order that the same strong-hand oppression may not happen again,” said Villegas, former rector of the Edsa Shrine and vicar general of the Archdiocese of Manila.
It was during Villegas’ term as CBCP head that Pope Francis visited the Philippines in January 2015—the first papal visit to the country in two decades.
Fr. Ranhilio Aquino, dean of the Graduate School of Law of San Beda College, thanked Villegas for shepherding not only the CBCP but the Church “in these difficult and trying times.”
He noted that the prelate courageously stood his ground even if he was “slandered, vilified and pilloried for doing so.”
“Thank you for having been so kind to so many and an inspiration to us priests,” said Aquino, also the parish priest of St. Rose of Lima church.
Sin ordained the then 25-year-old Villegas in 1985 and made him his private secretary. In 2001, the late Pope John Paul II appointed Villegas auxiliary bishop and then three years later as bishop of Balanga in Bataan province.
Pope Benedict XVI appointed Villegas archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan. —WITH A REPORT FROM INQUIRER RESEARCH
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