A church leader who was among the first to vigorously oppose the Duterte administration’s anti-drug war has just been elected head of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).

The CBCP serves as the voice, as well as the conscience of the Roman Catholic Church of the Philippines.

Bishop Virgilio David of Caloocan City was elected last week as president of the CBCP. David is a known critic of President Rodrigo Duterte, specifically his drug war that has claimed up to 30,000 lives, mostly poor young men from depressed communities. A handful of victims were minors.

David, previously vice-president of the influential organization, was elected president during a two-day plenary session attended by hundreds of bishops.

The 62-year-old David begins his term as CBCP president on December 1 this year.

David was ordained priest in 1983, originally for the Archdiocese of San Fernando. Here, he was promoted to auxiliary bishop in 2006. He was later transferred to Caloocan City in January 2016.

Aside from his previous post of vice-president, David also chaired the Episcopal Commission on Biblical Apostolate.

Also, during last week’s plenary session of the CBCP, Bishop Mylo Hubert Vergara was elected vice-president. 

A new treasurer was likewise elected and nine new positions of regional representatives of the CBCP permanent council were created.

Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles, outgoing CBCP president, thanked all the bishops for their support during his four years at the helm of the organization.

Valles said he had “very strong, wonderful memories of serving the CBCP” in the last four years as its head.

He praised two fallen members of the CBCP, Mati bishop-emeritus Patricio Alo and Occidental Mindoro bishop-emeritus Antonio Palang, who both passed away last April, along with other bishops and lay leaders who succumbed to coronavirus.

Valles congratulated Jose Cardinal Advincula, Archbishop of Manila; Bishop Broderick Pabillo, recently appointed as the new bishop of the Apostolic Vicariate of Taytay; and Bishop Noel Pedrigosa of Malaybalay.

Archbishop Charles Brown, the Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines – the Vatican’s representative to the country – was present during the virtual plenary assembly.

As incoming CBCP president, Bishop David is expected to give the Catholic Church a formidable voice in the 2022 elections. He is expected to speak out against whoever is anointed by Duterte as his successor.

While he is not the first non-Catholic president of the Philippines – former President Fidel Ramos is a Protestant – Duterte is the first to openly attack the Church on a host of issues.

Duterte has had a strained relationship with the Catholic Church almost from the start of his term as chief executive. This, despite his earning his Bachelor of Laws degree from San Beda College, a private and exclusive Catholic school.

He once told his followers that it was alright for them to “kill” priests and bishops, who he said were mostly pedophiles.

He also cursed Pope Francis for causing massive traffic jams when he visited Manila.

His worst attack on all of Christianity was when he referred to God as a “stupid son of a b*itch,” as well as belittling His son Christ for not using His powers to prevent His crucifixion.

Political analysts have always doubted the existence of a “Catholic vote” unlike other churches such as the Iglesia ni Kristo, which practices block voting, thereby giving its leaders substantial political clout.

Duterte is a follower of Pastor Apollo Quiboloy of Davao-based Kingdom of Jesus Christ, which also practices block voting. Quiboloy has claimed to be the “Appointed Son of God” as well as being “Owner of the Universe.”

Quiboloy’s church has been indicted in the US for human trafficking, money laundering, and illegal possession of firearms.