Priest: Presidential staff only followed program for Balangiga bells' turnover

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 16) — The parish priest of the Balangiga bells' home church clarified what really happened during the turnover ceremonies on Saturday.

Rev. Fr. Serafin Tybaco of the Church of St. Lawrence, Deacon and Marytr said the members of the Presidential Management Staff (PMS) only did their job to follow the original program, which specified that bishops and priests were only part of the preliminaries before the President's arrival.

On Saturday, Fr. Edmel Raagas was quoted by the Diocese of Borongan's Twitter account saying priests, including the bishop were asked to leave the plaza where the turnover would happen.


Raagas said the PMS told them to leave the venue before President Rodrigo Duterte arrived for the handover ceremony.

Tybaco said Archbishop Romulo Valles, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and Cabinet secretaries, who were present, negotiated with the PMS to let the priests stay in the next part of the program, which includes Duterte's arrival.   

"Hindi alam ng ibang kaparian na may pinag-usapan kami. Kasi ang nangyari, to the last minute, hindi pa napaplantsa ang mga programa kaya hindi nadesseminate ang information sa lahat ng kaparian," he said.

[Translation: The other priests didn't know that we already had an agreement. What happened was, to the last minute, the program wasn't finalized so the information wasn't disseminated to other priests.]

Tybaco also explained additional seats were placed in front of the priests to accommodate people who arrived with the President, and he approached the priests and shook their hands.

"Kaya ang Presidential Management Staff naglagay na lang ng upuan para di masyadong eyesore sa Presidente. Pero pagdating naman ng Presidente, pinuntahan kami, nakipag shake hands naman siya, hudyat ng approval na andun kami. At, in fairness naman sa Pangulo, wala naman s'yang sinabi na against sa Simbahan."

[Translation: So the Presidential Management Staff placed seats so we wouldn't be an eyesore for the President. But, when the President arrived, he went to us and shook our hands. In fairness to the President, he did not say anything against the Church.]

Tybaco said he understood the situation and it should not be taken negatively.

"Siguro para sa akin, God's intervention ang nangyari, nagkaintindihan. Maski yung mga secretaries na nandoon, gusto nila nandun kami. In fairness, naman sa kanila lahat, gusto lang. Nagkaroon lang ng hindi siguro magandang nakikita nung mga tao dahil sinusunod lang nila trabaho nila," he said.

[Translation: For me, God intervened in that situation, we came to an understanding. Even the secretaries who were present wanted us there. In fairness to all, they agreed. There may have been a misunderstanding because people were doing their job.]

Chief Presidential Legal Counsel and Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a statement on Sunday the incident is being probed. He said he did not hear any complaint from the Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines Gabriele Giordano Caccia and Valles, adding that the priests were seated in the same place before and after Duterte's arrival.