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Palace probes alleged order for clergy to leave Balangiga plaza

Balangiga Church

Schoolchildren gather for a performance in front of Balangiga’s St. Lawrence the Martyr Parish Church, which get the three bells taken by American soldiers as booty during the Philippine-American War. (File photo by LYN RILLON / Philippine Daily Inquirer)

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang Palace is investigating an incident that took place on Saturday during the turnover of historic church bells in Balangiga in Easter Samar, in which a presidential staff member allegedly asked priests and bishops to leave the town plaza before the arrival of President Rodrigo Duterte.

READ: Duterte staffer tells clergy to leave Balangiga plaza – priest

In reaction, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo issued a statement on Sunday, saying: “I did not see any occurrence as described nor hear any complaint coming from the Apostolic Nuncio and the CBCP [Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines] president whom I talked to just before the President arrived at the ceremonial place.”

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“It is absolutely out of the President’s character nor his style to cause mortification during an event,” he said. “If it indeed happened, then the same is not authorized and such unethical conduct can not be sanctioned by [the President]. It could have been done by someone who represented himself or herself as a staff from the PMS [Presidential Management Staff].”

According to Panelo, the priests were seated in the same place before and after the arrival of the President.

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Panelo said that Archbishop Gabriele Caccia, the Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines, and Archbishop Romulo Valles, the CBCP president among others, sat in the front row.

They even exchanged pleasantries with the President, Panelo said.

“He [Duterte] likewise acknowledged their presence in his brief remarks,” he added.

He said the President “even mentioned in his speech that the Filipino nation is one with the Diocese of Borongan in celebrating this historic event.”

“All went well and only the uproarious rejoicing of the Balangiga people and the guests who attended was the contaminating mood at the gathering,” Panelo said.

He stressed that the return of the Balangiga bells happened at a time when “all Filipinos, regardless of political affinitiy or religious outlook, come together and rejoice an event which we had long sought — and hoped for.”

Nevertheless, Panelo said that the Palace would not allow “such a reported unwanted incident to spoil this momentous occasion.”

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“The tolling of the Balangiga Bells ushers is a call of unity and peace among us Filipinos,” he said. “We can only respond in heartfelt approbation.” /atm

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