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Absence of Catholic priests in SONA invocation a first?

The 5th State of the Nation Address on Monday may have scored much  precedence as a result of the COVID-19 but the absence of a Catholic priest garbed in stole and vestment during the invocation could have been a non-pandemic first in Congress history.

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte delivers his 5th State of the Nation Address at the House of Representatives Complex in Quezon City on July 27, 2020.

Except for Pastor Apollo Quiboloy, founding leader of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, none among the 30 House of Representatives leaders and members sought for comment by Manila Bulletin could identify the three prayer leaders in the video produced and directed by Joyce Bernal.

One of them was clearly a Muslim.  The religious representations of the  two others, a woman and a barong-clad man, are unknown.

Among the dozen solons Manila Bulletin texted, only Reps. Khalid Dimaporo  (PDP-Laban, Lanao del Norte); Jesus “Bong” Suntay  (NP, Quezon City) and Jericho Nograles (PBA Partylist) sent comments.

Nograles said that if the intention of the non-inclusion of a Catholic priest was to “slight” its leaders, accusing fingers should not be pointed at President Duterte.

“If the president wanted to make a statement against the Catholic Church, he would have said it outright.  But his SONA did not contain any attack,” he said.

Deputy Speakers Rodante Marcoleta and DV Savellano and Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said they will try to check the identities of the prayer leaders and determine the reasons behind the exclusion of an official of the Catholic church.

Two religious leaders who are now in the roster of the House of Representatives have yet to respond to text requests for comment.

They are  Minority Leader Bienvenido Abante, a Baptist bishop, and Rep. Eddie Villanueva, founder of Jesus is Lord Church Worldwide. 

Rep. Lito Atienza, who represents the El Shaddai-backed Buhay Partylist, was also asked to comment.

“As a Muslim, I appreciate the representation of the Islamic faith in the SONA interfaith prayer. However, in the spirit of unity and as a display of Bayanihan, the SONA prayer should have included all faiths,” said Dimaporo, chairman of the House Committee on Mindanao Affairs.

He added: “Notably, it should have also included the Catholic faith, being the largest religious denomination in our country.”

However, Nograles sees nothing controversial in the SONA interfaith prayer, stressing that  it should have been non-denominational.

“If someone meant to slight the Catholic church by the deliberate non-inclusion in the nations of prayer, then it must be someone else,” the partylist solon said.

Suntay said he believes there was a representative of the Catholic church in the invocation, stressing that it is “standard protocol.”

This year’s SONA was the first to be conducted via virtual conference with only 21 congressmen and a few senators in physical attendance at the Batasan plenary hall in Quezon City.

It was also the first time that strict health protocols were enforced that saw the exclusion of Deputy Speaker Johnny Pimentel and four Lower House personnel who tested positive for COVID-19.

The red carpet was still rolled from various entrances leading to the plenary hall but only a few walked it.

Monday’s SONA was also the most austere in recent history.

Source: Manila Bulletin (

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