(UPDATE) MANILA- Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles is the new president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) after winning the elections Saturday.
Valles, who served as vice president of the CBCP for four years, will now lead the influential episcopal organization, succeeding Lingayen, Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, who steps down this year.
The archbishop is known to be close to the family of President Rodrigo Duterte, a long-time Davao City Mayor. In March, Valles baptized Duterte's youngest grandson Marko Digong Carpio, nicknamed Stonefish.
Traditionally, the CBCP vice president becomes the next president. CBCP officers have a 2-year term and can run for a second term, giving them a maximum stay in office of 4 years.
Completing the new set of CBCP officers are Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David (vice president), Palo Archbishop John Du (treasurer), and Fr. Marvin Mejia (secretary general).
Born on July 10, 1951 in Bohol, Valles was ordained to the priesthood on Apr. 6, 1976 and became a bishop on Aug. 28, 1997.
He finished his Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, and Theology degree from the St. Francis Xavier Regional Major Seminary in Davao City in 1972 and 1976 respectively.
He received his Licentiate in Sacred Theology in 1990 at the Pontificio Ateneo Sant' Anselmo in Rome, Italy and his Master of Arts in Religious Education at the Ignatian Institute for Religious Education at the Ateneo de Davao University in 1997.
Valles is currently rector of the St. Francis Xavier Regional Major Seminary, a position he has held since 1993.
He has also led several commissions of the CBCP, among them the Episcopal Commission on Liturgy, Commission on Prison Pastoral Care, and the Committee on International Eucharistic Congresses, among others.
Valles was the former archbishop of Zamboanga before being appointed to the Davao see in 2012.
In an August 2016 interview, retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz had expressed apprehension over the idea of having Valles as CBCP president, saying he is "rather close" to Duterte as they are both from Davao City.
"The closeness has nothing to do with what is right or wrong. It will have a relevance on how CBCP will look at the overall value of the actuation of the President of the Republic," Cruz told ANC last year.
"Being from Davao himself, then the incoming, as presumptively incoming CBCP president, will definitely be more one with him than otherwise," he added.
Valles will be assuming the helm of the CBCP at a time when the church and the administration has taken opposing sides on critical issues, among them Duterte's fierce war on drugs and moves to revive the death penalty.
Outgoing Villegas has been very vocal against these programs.
Just this February, the CBCP issued a pastoral letter that said the government's war on drugs has caused a "reign of terror" among Filipinos.
In response,Duterte has repeatedly slammed Church leaders, accusing them of corruption and hypocrisy.
The CBCP earlier this year has expressed openness to a dialogue with the Duterte administration to discuss national issues.