MANILA (2nd UPDATE) - A Catholic bishop who once received death threats for speaking out against the Duterte administration's war on drugs has been elected president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.
Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, 62, has been serving as conference vice president since December 2017, working alongside Archbishop Romulo Valles of Davao, the outgoing president.
He was elected president of the CBCP Thursday, during the first of the two-day bishops’ online plenary assembly.
David earlier revealed he had received death threats after President Rodrigo Duterte repeatedly urged drug addicts and criminals to maul, kill and steal from moneyed bishops. Duterte also drew the ire of Catholics for finding fault in the creation story in the Bible and saying that Catholicism will be gone in 25 years.
David later shared he received encouragement from Pope Francis, who said that he was praying for bishop.
David was also among several priests accused of sedition in connection with the viral "Ang Totoong Narcolist" videos that tagged President Rodrigo Duterte's family in illegal drugs.
Ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of San Fernando in 1983, David is known as one of the country’s leading Bible scholars.
In 2006, he was appointed auxiliary bishop of the same archdiocese, a post he served for around 14 years until he was transferred to the Kalookan diocese in January 2016.
In the bishops’ conference, he previously chaired the Episcopal Commission on Biblical Apostolate.
David was also among the five Filipino bishop delegates to the Synod of Bishops on the Word of God in the Vatican in 2008.
In 2019, the Ateneo de Manila University conferred its “Bukas Palad Award” on David for his service to the poor and “for his courage in speaking out against the evil of injustice and violence.
Meanwhile, the bishops’ leadership also elected Bishop Mylo Hubert Vergara of Pasig as the new vice president.
The newly elected officials will begin their terms on Dec. 1, 2021, the start of a 2-year term, or a total of four years to include a second term.
Outgoing CBCP President Archbishop Valles, in his message to open the plenary assembly, recalled a challenging 2020 and 2021 because of the pandemic, describing it as “times of darkness, of misery and suffering, times of terrible sickness and death.”
Some bishops, he pointed out, got sick with COVID-19, while a number of priests and religious died because of the virus, adding that the virus has caused “a great suffering to everyone but especially to the most poor and vulnerable.”
Valles, however, said the Church has continued to give “comfort and encouragement to our people,” recalling the celebration of 500 years of Christianity.
He also recalled the celebration of sacraments in the face of challenges, distribution of help to the needy, the establishment of community pantries organized by “good-hearted people, and the offer of parish and Catholic school facilities to serve as vaccination centers."
“In faith, we prayed. In faith, we have not forgotten that we belong to the family of the Church. In faith, we struggled to do good deeds, especially for the most suffering among us. In faith, we realized how present God is among us,” he said.
He also noted how the faithful prayed for the invention of vaccines against COVID-19.
“And we remember early on, at the start of this pandemic, we fervently prayed in our Oratio Imperata that vaccines may be invented and produced. And before the end of last year, we received news that vaccines are coming," said Valles.
"Even people among the medical and pharmaceutical circles were unbelieving at first that this is true. Vaccines cannot be produced this fast. But yes, we have the vaccines."
- With reports from Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News