Philippines

New head could mend fences?

By Ted Alcuitas

A thawing of relations between President Rodrigo Duterte and the Catholic Church could happen with the election Saturday, July 8 of Archbishop Romulo Valles of Davao as new head of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).

Archbishop Romulo Valles of Davao – who once advised then Mayor Rodrigo Duterte to not only stop using cuss words in his speeches but also to pray the rosary everyday for atonement – was elected as the new president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines .

Valles, (66) current CBCP vice president, will succeed Archbishop Socrates Villegas (57) who finished his second and final term.

Villegas, the protégé of the late Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin, has earned the ire of Duterte’s daughter and supporters, including pro-Duterte trolls. After all, under the 57-year-old Villegas, the CBCP issued statements criticizing Duterte’s war on drugs, his administration’s bid to revive the death penalty, and Duterte’s act of cursing Pope Francis.

This year, the CBCP election especially matters because the Catholic Church is one of the few institutions – aside from human rights groups and the media – that have dared to criticize the popular Duterte’s bloody war on drugs.
Whoever will lead the CBCP will have to face a President who has openly attacked the Catholic Church and, against basic moral norms, convinced many Filipinos that it is okay to kill to end the drug menace.

Like ‘a friend-sinner’

In an interview in June 2016, rappler.com asked Valles what he thinks is the best way to engage then President-elect Duterte. Valles responded: “I’m just coming from Davao, and having observed him, I don’t have that fear…coming from other parts of the country. But I would say a friendly sharing ideas would be good.”

He continued, “I have not thought of that area, but just offhand, to think of myself also as a sinner, as a friend, like a friend-sinner, that we would journey together.”

The new CBCP head with President Duterte.

Ex-bishop of Kidapawan, Zamboanga

Born in Maribojoc, Bohol, the 66 -year old Valles has been Davao archbishop since May 2012.
(One of Duterte’s closest advisers is former Maribojoc mayor, Leoncio Evasco Jr., a former priest-turned Communist guerrilla.)

A graduate of the Pontificio Ateneo Sant’ Anselmo in Rome, he has been a Catholic priest in Mindanao for the past 4 decades.

Before the Pope made him Davao archbishop in 2012, he became bishop of Kidapawan in 1997 then archbishop of Zamboanga in 2007.

Now, his archdiocese of around 1.5 million Catholics includes Davao City, where Dutere was mayor for more than two decades.

In a sign of close ties with Duterte, Valles baptized Duterte’s new grandson, Stonefish Duterte Carpio, in March this year.

Valles was also the bishop before whom Duterte apologized for cursing Pope Francis in November 2015.

Duterte ended up writing a letter of apology to Francis. In April 2016, it was Valles who read to the media a letter from the Vatican acknowledging receipt of Duterte’s apology.