No more exchange of bitter words, for now.
That was more or less the result of the one-on-one meeting of President Duterte with Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) president Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles in Malacañang yesterday that lasted for not more than 30 minutes.
“PRRD (President Rodrigo Roa Duterte) agreed to a moratorium on statements about the Church after the meeting,” Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said.
Roque’s text message was received by reporters past 4 p.m. after the meeting or just minutes before the start of the handover ceremony of the proposed Federal Constitution by the Consultative Committee (ConCom).
Prior to this, Roque announced to reporters that the CBCP president was invited by the President to visit the Palace anytime between 3 p.m. to 10 p.m.
“He said he will visit,” Roque, quoting Archbishop Valles said.
The President immediately put into action the agreed moratorium as he, in a surprising move, skipped delivering a speech during the said handover ceremony held at the Rizal Hall.
It was not known who were present in the said meeting, arranged by the President himself and the CBCP leader directly, as it was made strictly “private.”
“It is designated as a private meeting and PMS (Presidential Management Staff) advised me that even I can’t enter because it will be a one-on-one meeting between Archbishop Valles and the President,” Roque said.
The Palace official told reporters that he did try if he could at least be allowed to linger around, in case the President asks for him but was told that he cannot as it is going to be a closed door meeting.
“So I do not know what exactly they will be discussing,” he added.
“Although one-on-one, I really would not venture because only the President and Archbishop Valles would know what they intend to discuss with each other. But on a broader perspective, of course we would like to see closer cooperation between the State and Church in their desire to serve the people better,” the Palace official said when asked on the objective of the said meeting.
“I understand that after this initial one-on-one, there will be a meeting arranged between CBCP and our panel. So perhaps in the subsequent meeting there will be an agenda to be formulated and agreed upon by the parties. But for now it really will be a one-on-one private meeting between Archbishop Valles and the President,” he added.
Roque meets bishops
But even before the anticipated one-on-one meeting, Roque told reporters that he was in a dinner with at least 18 bishops at the residence of former president and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and the issue concerning the Catholic Church and Duterte was discussed.
“Well, I would lie if I were to say no and actually brought it up at least one person, one bishop—archbishop did but there was no substantial discussion on it because everyone’s awaiting the meeting between Archbishop Valles and the President. There was also no agreement yet on when they will issue the pastoral letter. They speculated that it will be after talks have been had between the panel—the Palace panel and the CBCP panel,” he said.
Roque said it was a social dinner that Arroyo traditionally hosted to emphasize the need for a close relationship between the Church and the State.
“She would meet them when she was President. It only stopped when she was in detention in the hospital. But I understand whenever there is a conclave, whenever they have their annual meeting, the former president will host a dinner for some of the Bishops. I had the good fortune of being invited and we had a good number of attendees last night, 18,” he said.
Valles noted that he immediately accepted the government’s invitation for the meeting.
“Let me be clear that the invitation, the very gracious invitation, came from Malacanang, came from them and I said yes because as a bishop we are open to listen to one another and with respect, and with openness and especially for the persona of the ordained minister, bishop to be always reaching out,” Valles said in a press briefing to close the CBCP’s 117th Plenary Assembly at the Pope Pius XII Center in Manila.
The Davao prelate added that they did not prepare a list of issues to discuss with the Chief Executive, as he is hoping that it will not be a one-time meeting.
“It is not true that we (bishops) come up with the list of issues that I will discuss with the President. But it is good to note that this meeting is an initial step and hopefully an ongoing listening with one another. So just a small, initial step,” Valles said.
“Remember the invitation came from them. Play it by ear just to show our respect and sincerity to listen to the president so I have no fixed agenda in my head because the invitation came from them,” he furthered.