Duterte’s aide joins church dialogue panel

Manila: One of President Rodrigo Duterte’s most trusted senior official has joined the panel that will hold talks with the clergy to mend frayed ties between the outspoken leader and the Catholic Church.

Leoncio Evasco, Jr, who holds the position of Cabinet Secretary, joins a panel appointed by Duterte to hold talks with leaders of the Catholic Church, Presidential spokesman Harry Roque, who is also a part of the four-member panel from the government, said on Thursday during a press briefing.

“The president had said he is willing to sit down and talk with religious leaders to clarify what he meant in his recent remarks,” Roque, said.

On the inclusion of Evasco in the panel, Roque said: “I suppose his contribution because he is a former priest himself and familiar with the dogma of the Catholic Church.”

Other members of the panel are Boy Saycon and Ernesto Abella, a former preacher before he joined the Duterte’s Cabinet as presidential spokesman.

Duterte appointed his team amid damaged relations with the Catholic clergy following his statements questioning the Church’s Old Testament teachings on God and “creation.”

Roque said instead of dwelling on debates over differences in faith, the panel’s tasks was to find common grounds and cooperation with the church on crucial issues affecting society.

“The president really expected better working relations with the Catholic Church. He is against divorce, abortion and same-sex marriage. They seem to agree on what used to be contentious issues between [the Church] and the state,” Roque noted.

“We are still looking forward to this kind of cooperation,” he added.

Earlier, Roque, Abella and Saycon met with Bishop Noel Pantoja of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC) after the group took note of the president’s statements concerning an important narrative that forms one of the foundations of the Christian faith, creation.

Christianity is the majority faith in the Philippines.

Also on Thursday, the Philippine National Police, led by Director General Oscar Albayalde, held a dialogue with officials of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippine (CBCP) led by Bishop Reynaldo G. Evangelista, chair of the CBCP Permanent Council for Public Affairs, CBCP Secretary-General Rev. Father Marvin S. Mejia and Fr Jerome Secillano, executive secretary of the CBCP Public Affairs.

During the meeting Albayalde briefed the clerics on the status of the murder cases involving members of the clergy, particularly the June 10 murder of Fr Richmond Nilo in Nueva Ecija, the April 29 shooting to death of Fr. Mark Ventura and the December 2017 assassination of 72-year-old Fr Marcelito Paez also in the same province.

Albayalde said their investigations showed that “the murder cases were unrelated. There were different motives and that there are no apparent patterns in the incidents.”

Earlier, there had been insinuation from certain quarters that the killings were meant to silence dissent against the present government.

“We were assured that we were really not targets and that’s coming from the PNP Chief himself,” Secillano was quoted in reports as saying.

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