Borongan diocese claims priests in Balangiga Bells turnover asked to leave

MANILA, Philippines – The Diocese of Borongan in Eastern Samar claimed on Saturday, December 15, that the priests and some Catholic leaders were told to leave the turnover of the historic Balangiga Bells, an event attended by President Rodrigo Duterte.

In a Facebook post late Saturday afternoon, the Diocese of Borongan said that priests including the bishop of Borongan, the Archbishop of the Military Ordinariate of the United States, and the Apostolic Nuncio, "were earlier told to go out of the Balangiga plaza." 

The President "only wants [Archbishop Romulo] Valles to be in the area," the post said. Valles is archbishop of Davao and the head of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines.

"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," read the post.

The Catholic Church has been the target of many of the President's tirades in recent months.

An ABS-CBN News report on Saturday quoted Father Edmel Raagas as saying that the Presidential Management Staff relayed the instructions to the priests. 

However, former special assistant to the president Christopher Lawrence Go denied the claim in the report, saying that Duterte "shook hands" with the priests Borongan Bishop Crispin Varquez and Apostolic Nuncio Gabriele Giordano Caccia before he went up the stage.

Duterte witnessed the homecoming of the Balangiga Bells on Saturday. (READ: Joy as U.S.-seized bells return to Philippine church) – Michael Bueza/Rappler.com