The word war between Culion mayor Virginia de Vera and town parish priest Fr. Roderick Caabay has worsened, triggered by a series of incidents that underscored an already tenuous relationship that had long prevailed between the two local figures.
The tension took a turn for the worse when unidentified men last week took down campaign posters installed by the parish inside several of its properties pertaining to the holding in March of a province-wide referendum on the proposed division of Palawan into three new provinces.
Fr. Caabay, who has been vocal in his opposition to the division of the province, accused the provincial government which is pushing for a Yes vote in the referendum of being behind the taking down of their campaign billboards, an accusation that was denied by provincial government spokesman Winston Arzaga.
For her part, Mayor De Vera accused Fr. Caabay of unjustly meddling into politics and, in social media posts, slammed the priest for allegedly inciting the youth to hold rallies against the government. She also threatened to revoke the government scholarship of the students who will participate in the supposed rally.
The tension between the two sides deteriorated further last week after unidentified persons vandalized a new ambulance that was donated to the municipality by the Department of Health. De Vera claimed that the incident was a deliberate act of her opponents.
The latest in the series of incidents occurred Saturday when Fr. Caabay woke up to find his dog severely beaten, its eyes almost popping out. In a Facebook post, he expressed concern that it was a warning to him by his detractors.
“I’m sure sinadya siya, kung sinumang tao ‘yon. Whether this is political, or sending a message to me, or accidental, or may nakaaway na ibang aso. But this is a little dog. At kapag tinawag mo, lalapit siya sa ‘yo,” he stated.
Fr. Caabay was quick to link the attacks against the local church to its stance on the proposed division of Palawan.
“Because of our fight for One Palawan, ang pagtanggal ng mga tarpaulin became viral, I think the reaction was balikan kami, ang parokya,” he told Palawan News.
De Vera, for her part, accused Fr. Caabay of planning to instigate a rally against the affirmative “3 in 1” campaign.
“‘Yong mga bata na gagamitin niya sa rally sa 3-in-1 parade nila na may mga plackard na dala na parang ginagawa niyang aktibista,” she told Palawan News via messenger chat.
De Vera also denied Fr. Caabay’s accusation that he was being harassed for his stand.
“Walang harassment, siya (Caabay) ang magulo. Lahat na lang ang kinontra niya. Dapat simbahan lang siya ‘wag siya makialam sa pulitika,” she said.
She also accused Fr. Caabay of getting back at the municipal government for “favors” he had asked but were not granted.
“Marami kasi ‘yan siyang pabor na gusto sa akin na hindi na napagbigyan,” she said.
Meanwhile, Fr. Caabay denied that he is organizing a rally, claiming that their planned activity is a “youth mass.”
“We are launching this gathering and we are very conscious of the protocols. But ‘yong LGU (local government unit), iba naman ang kanilang position, that I am organizing a rally. Sabi ko, it is not a rally. It is a youth mass,” he said.
He added that the church wanted to hold the event so local youths could find comfort in forming new friendships amidst the current pandemic.