CEBU CITY -- Six officials from the Catholic church and three members of religious groups joined Friday the National Transformation Council’s (NTC) call for President Benigno Aquino III to “step down.”
Retired Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal also appealed to other bishops and religious leaders to join the Catholic Church in praying for God’s guidance “for the renewal of the nation.”
The Archdiocese of Cebu, however, clarified that while Archbishop Jose Palma was present when Cardinal Vidal read his statement, this did not mean Palma was joining the call for Aquino to step down, following the Mamasapano tragedy last January 25.
Former senator Francisco “Kit” Tatad and former defense secretary Norberto Gonzales, who support the NTC, joined the Church officials in Vidal’s post-birthday party Friday at his home in Sto. Niño Village in Banilad, Cebu City.
Cardinal Vidal’s statement began this way: “The National Transformation Council has strongly articulated that the President should step down. We, bishops of the Catholic and other Christian Churches, have often been asked if there is moral basis to this growing demand. Recent developments have made this call even more urgent and imperative.”
(Although the text uses “articulated” in the first sentence, when Cardinal Vidal read the speech, he used “advocated.”)
“We cannot be apathetic,” the cardinal’s seven-paragraph statement also pointed out.
It mentioned the resignation call only in the first paragraph. It ended this way: “We appeal to our fellow bishops and religious leaders of faith-based communities to join us in praying to God for His guidance for the renewal of the nation that is deeply rooted in faith values, love of country and respect for human life and environment.”
Hours after the event, the Archdiocese of Cebu clarified that it is not supporting calls for President Aquino to resign.
Msgr. Joseph Tan, media liaison officer of the Archdiocese of Cebu, told Sun.Star Cebu that Archbishop Palma is “in no position” to issue or support such calls.
“The Archbishop of Cebu is in no position to issue any political statement of whatever kind because such an act would not be part of the competence of the ministry of the Church,” Tan added.
Tan clarified that Archbishop Palma’s role during Friday's activity was only to participate in the 84-year-old prelate’s post-birthday party with some of his friends.
“We want to make it clear that no one will hear from the Archbishop of Cebu issuing such a statement nor would we be interested in making such a statement,” he added.
Meanwhile, high-ranking police officials in Central Visayas squashed talks of a brewing coup plot amid public outrage over the deaths of 44 elite commandos in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.
“We remain loyal to the republic, country and the people,” said Chief Superintendent Prudencio Tom Bañas, director of the Police Regional Office (PRO)-Central Visayas.
Responding to the revelation of Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago during a Senate hearing that a group met recently on how to stage a coup d’etat, he said he didn’t receive such a report.
“Wala naman tayong balita na nasagap dito. Nobody approached me. Nobody has recruited me,” Bañas said.
Senior Superintendent Conrado Capa said the alleged plot against the government is still raw information.
“We stand behind the constitution. We will always be loyal to the duly constituted authorities,” assured Capa, PRO-Central Visayas' deputy regional director for operations and officer-in-charge (OIC) of Cebu City Police Office (CCPO).
In a press statement, the Central Command (Centcom) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said they are verifying these allegations.
“Based on initial information and consultation with our ground commanders, there is no indication of any coup plots,” they said.
Instead, the military is appealing to all not to glorify alleged attempts to divide the country further. “Our soldiers will continue to support the government in helping solve our country’s problems instead of becoming part of the problem,” the Centcom added.
While Cardinal Vidal read his statement Friday, a row of church leaders stood behind him, including Archbishop Palma. But before the reporters could ask questions after the speech, Palma left, saying he had another meeting.
In a previous interview, Archbishop Palma had said he agreed with appeals for a truth commission to investigate what happened in Mamasapano, where the 44 policemen were killed after pursuing a Malaysian bomb-maker.
At least eight groups, including the Senate and the Lower House, are investigating the incident.
The archbishops who have supported the calls for President Aquino to resign are Romulo Dela Cruz of Zamboanga City and Ramon Arguelles of Lipa City in Batangas.
Archbishop Emeritus Fernando Capalla of Davao, Bishop Ramon Villena of Bayombong, Nueva Viscaya and Bishop Filomeno Bactol of Naval, Biliran were also there to show support.
Other leaders present during the meeting were Bishop Butch Belgica and Bishop Jose Socito of Christian Bishops and Ministries in the Philippines and Evangelical Pastor Arthur Corpus of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines.
When reporters tried to clarify from Cardinal Vidal if he was categorically asking President Aquino to step down, he did not elaborate, only saying, “It’s already in the first sentence (of my speech).”
Tatad, a member of the NTC, said: “The entire government must step down, including those who have claims to the line of presidential succession because as far as the NTC is concerned, the whole electoral process (in 2010) was fraudulent.”
He said that the NTC has received calls during their previous assemblies to organize a government that could fix the present system. “Not to succeed president Aquino but to put in place a working democratic system where you have genuinely free elections and where you could hint to transform the status, otherwise, the structure of the government,” Tatad said.
Tatad is also a former senator and former minister during Martial Law. He declined to say who else is in the NTC.
In a separate statement, Gonzales said that the NTC will not support a coup. (He served as defense secretary during the administration of Gloria Arroyo and is also chair of the Philippine Democratic Socialist Party.)
“We are hoping, of course, that the people will have the courage to come out. Again, I will not call it people power because times are changing and the form and mode of change is also changing. But I think that given the sentiments of the Armed Forces and the police today, kung lalabas ang taong bayan sasali sila (if the people will come out, they will join),” said Gonzales.
Villena said it would be “a great gesture of patriotism” on the part of Aquino if he steps down from the presidency.
Archbishop dela Cruz of Zamboanga said that he thought President Aquino was in Zamboanga last January 25 for the victims of the September 2013, as well as to get updates on the bombing last January 23 that killed at least two persons and hurt 52 others.
But he alleged the President was only there to “to know if the SAF (Special Action Force) had succeeded in their mission.”
“I was so ashamed when I found out that the President was with us not because he was grieving for the Zamboangeños,” Dela Cruz said. (With Justin K. Vestil and Davinci S. Maru/Sun.Star Cebu)