By Robin Gomes
The new president of the Catholic bishops of the Philippines says he is committed to an open dialogue with the government of president Rodrigo Duterte. “Communication lines are open,” Archbishop Romulo Valles of Davao, the new President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), told CBCPNews in a recent interview.
His remarks came ahead of the first CBCP plenary assembly that he will be presiding over in Cebu City, January 27-29. Archbishop Valles took over from Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan as the new CBCP president on 1 December.
After his election at the Plenary Assembly in Manila on July 8, Archbishop Valles said he would promote “active dialogue” during his 2-year term. He said it was important to pursue dialogue, especially amid the conflict in the southern part of the country where government security forces are fighitng terrorist gunmen. He said the statement released by the bishops at the end of their meeting on July 10 was "encouraging us to engage and put out efforts in promoting dialogue." Earlier, in a 2016 interview, Archbishop Valles said, "a friendly sharing of ideas would be good" to engage the then newly-elected Duterte.
Reflecting Gospel values, Church’s teaching
Speaking to CBCPNews he explained that the Church’s approach to various issues will always be weighed against Gospel values. “[No matter] how [the government] proposes [their] critique, our standpoint is we come from the viewpoint of the Gospel and the teachings of the Church.” “We will continue to engage the government,” Archbishop Valles said admitting he and Duterte are friends as both are from Davao City, where the Philippine President was mayor.
The 66-year old archbishop underscored the collegial nature of the bishops’ conference. He said, unlike political parties, the CBCP decides on “a matter of consensus,” where bishops themselves submit possible issues to be discussed during their plenary assemblies.
Archbishop Valles said that while the bishops share “bright ideas” for discussion, there are major plans of action that are, more or less, universally recognized. He explained there is a ‘set play’ like the 9-year preparation for the celebration in 2021 of 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines, which, he said, he cannot just suddenly change.
Areas of improvement
Asked about areas of improvement for the Philippine Church, Archbishop Valles said that the Secretariat for Social Action (NASSA)/Caritas Philippines should further strengthen its efforts in disaster preparedness and response, considering the natural calamities that are frequently hitting the country, especially the Visayas and Mindanao regions.
“While the social action arm is doing very well, we should learn from our weaknesses and respond to calamities soonest,” he stressed. He said there are still families in Davao temporarily staying at evacuation centers.
The new CBCP president commended the response from various dioceses to help the southern Prelature of Marawi rin reaching out to the survivors of the armed conflict and the recent typhoons there.
He also emphasized that the CBCP should focus on the laity, integrating the Catholic faithful who are not members of the church-based organizations, into the Basic Ecclesial Communities “where they can play a more active role” in the Church. (Source: CBCPNews)