Asked to confirm a dinner-meeting of several bishops with President Macapagal-Arroyo on Jan. 8, a Roman Catholic prelate denied there was such an encounter.
But the Philippine Daily Inquirer obtained a copy of a letter where the bishop thanked Ms Arroyo for her hospitality in hosting dinner.
Tuguegarao (Cagayan) Archbishop Diosdado Talamayan said in an interview at the sidelines of the Bishops-Legislators Caucus last Thursday that the said meeting was with Cabinet members, not with Ms Arroyo.
Talamayan said the delegation of “more than 15” bishops discussed with the Cabinet members important concerns, such as mining, logging, corruption and poverty.
“It was with Cabinet members … We didn’t talk to GMA at all,” the 75-year-old bishop said.
“Tutal (After all), GMA works through her Cabinet naman, eh,” Talamayan added, noting the bishops felt assured that their concerns would reach Ms Arroyo, even if they did not meet her face-to-face.
Asked who initiated the meeting, Talamayan said the dialogue was “spontaneous” and gave the bishops an opportunity to bring important issues to the attention of officials.
“How can they help if hindi nila malaman (they don’t know)?” said Talamayan.
But a letter to Ms Arroyo, dated Jan. 11, which was obtained by the Inquirer after talking with Talamayan, confirmed the bishops’ meeting with the President.
Signed by Talamayan himself, the letter expressed gratitude that she took time to listen to their concerns.
“We really enjoyed the dinner with you. Thank you for your hospitality and listening ‘ear’ to our suggestions,” Talamayan said in the letter.
The letter closed: “Devotedly in Christ, DIOSDADO A. TALAMAYAN, D.D. Archbishop of Tuguegarao.”
Another bishop declines invite
Talamayan, a priest for 51 years and a bishop for 24, has served as Tuguegarao archbishop since 1986. He was the chair of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) Commission on Health Care in 1987.
Another bishop, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, confirmed a delegation of Catholic bishops indeed met with Ms Arroyo this month.
He said, however, that the reasons for the meeting were still unclear.
The second bishop admitted receiving an invitation to attend a dinner with Ms Arroyo but that he turned it down because he had another appointment.
No social calls
The source said two people from the Office of Religious Affairs, which is under the Office of the President, invite bishops to meetings at the Palace, saying it is a way for them “to air their concerns.”
Fr. Joe Dizon, convenor of Solidarity Philippines, a movement for the advancement of the social justice agenda of the Church, said in an interview that bishops were not surprised anymore about such arranged meetings with Ms Arroyo.
Attempts to bribe?
He said such meetings were not mere social calls or “consultations” given the political climate in the country.
“These meetings with the bishops and Palace officials and hostings with some bishops are attempts by the Palace to politically bribe the bishops,” Dizon claimed.
He said Malacañang was now busy trying to meet with bishops while they were in Manila for this weekend’s bi-annual plenary assembly of the Catholic prelates.
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