IPIL, Philippines (UCAN / August 30, 2008) - Roads leading to the local cathedral were closed to traffic in mid-August for the security of guests attending a bishop's ordination in this southern Philippine city.
Senior Superintendent Federico Castro, police director of Zamboanga Sibugay province, told UCA News the closure was part of a "security plan" to ensure that apostolic nuncio Archbishop Edward Joseph Adams and other guests attending the August 19 ordination of Bishop Joseph Amangi Nacua of Ilagan would be "safe."
More than 500 religious and lay guests attended the ordination at St. Joseph the Worker Cathedral in Ipil, 770 kilometers southeast of Manila. Archbishop Adams delivered the homily. Archbishop Diosdado Talamayan of Tuguegarao served as the ordaining prelate.
Bishop Nacua, the first Philippine Capuchin bishop, was parish priest of St. Isidro Labrador, an interior parish in Ipil prelature, prior to being appointed to Ilagan diocese on June 10.
The diocese, which has been without a bishop for more than a year, is based in Ilagan town, capital of Isabela province, 290 kilometers northeast of Manila. It belongs to Tuguegarao ecclesiastical province.
The tight security was ordered after Armed Forces chief General Alexander Yano announced on August 18 that about 300 members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) had attacked Kolambugan and four other towns in Lanao del Norte province, northeast of Ipil.
Kolambugan Mayor Bertrand Lumaque told UCA News that the MILF burned houses that morning and used people as human shields during their withdrawal, as the military reclaimed the town. Text messages circulated around Ipil the following day, warning residents of impending attacks by the rebels.
The MILF was formed in the 1970s to fight for an Islamic state comprising claimed ancestral domain territories mostly in Mindanao, the southern Philippine region. It and the government began talks and in 2001 agreed to a cease-fire to make way for formal peace negotiations.
Clashes flared 13 days after the Supreme Court on Aug. 4 stopped the signing of a Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain between the government and MILF chief negotiators, scheduled for the next day in Kuala Lumpur. Mindanao Christian officials, leaders of indigenous groups, legislators, the Church and residents protested that details of the agreement, which would affect them, had not been made known.
The agreement concerns land and maritime resources to be designated as part of an autonomous Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE), pending approval in a plebiscite one year after the signing of the agreement. It calls for the signing of a "Comprehensive Compact" to provide a political structure and system of governance for the BJE, which is to have executive, legislative, judicial and administrative institutions.
Castro noted police personnel were positioned as close as 100 meters from the cathedral. "We cannot afford to be complacent at a time when the peace situation is uncertain," he said.
At the ordination, Bishop Nacua acknowledged the "tense" security situation and thanked people "for coming here to witness my ordination amid rumors of war."
Wilfredo Ampong, a government employee and former seminarian, observed the turnout was "thin" compared to last September's installation of Bishop Julius Tonel to head the prelature. "This could be due to the tension," Ampong told UCA News.
Nevertheless, Bishop Nacua's supporters were enthusiastic.
Brother Rosauro Gonzales from General Santos City, southeast of Ipil, told UCA News he was "very happy to witness" his fellow Capuchin's ordination.
Margarita Francisco, a member of the Ipil parish council, told UCA News that "despite threats," she shared the "happiness" of the rest of the Catholic community in welcoming the new bishop.
Bishop Nacua was born on January 5, 1945, in Mankayan town, Benguet province, northwest of Manila. He studied philosophy in India and theology in Spain before being ordained a priest on June 26, 1971.
Between then and 1986, he served in Philippine seminaries. He was appointed Capuchin Philippines provincial in 1994 and served in his order's international council 2000-2006 as counselor for the Capuchins in Asia.
He is scheduled to be installed in Ilagan on September 9.
The Capuchins have 45 priests and 12 brothers working in seven parishes, 13 missions and two schools in nine dioceses in the Philippines. There are now six Filipino Capuchins working overseas, mostly in western Asia.