The Roman Catholic hierarchy and the wife of Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos have been engaged in a tug of war about arrangements for the visit of Pope John Paul II, who is due to arrive here Feb. 17.
The church in the devoutly Roman Catholic Philippines -- the only Christian country in Asia -- has jealously guarded the itinerary of the pontiff and is determined to keep the government from having any direct say in where he should go or what he should do on his visit.
The church and the government had a testy relationship during eight years of martial law, which was finally lifted by Marcos on Jan. 17, and the church hierarchy, led by Cardinal Jaime Sin, was careful not to allow the papal to visit to be used as an endorsement of Marcos' still authoritarian rule.
The beneficial effects of a papal visit, thrice postponed because of political instability could not be easily be cast off by Marcos' government either. Cardinal Sin, the archbishop of Manila, had said the church on the whole was gratified by the cooperation the government extended.
But the patience of the hierarchy, which has been involved in intensive preparations during the last five months, has been tired by the country's formidable first lady, Imelda Marcos.
She initially tried to claim the pope as her state guest when he agreed to come to the Philippines. A dispute about the nature of the visit in the government-controlled media ensued and only when Sin went to the pulpit to rebut her claim did the government agree that the pontiff would come here strictly on a pastorial visit.
In the next round of bickering, the government won by constructing the reception platform at the airport big enough to hold only four people -- the Marcoses, Sin and the pope -- over objections that the church wanted the senior hierarchy on the same stage.
Imelda Marcos was next reportedly unhappy about the pope's program because he is not scheduled to formally the tour any projects or monuments of Marco's party, the New Society Movement, or to see any of its programs in action.
Instead the pope's busy, six-day schedule calls for him to visit lepers, the slums, poor sugar plantation workers, deprived tribal minorities and Moslem leaders in southern Philippines as well as Vietnamese refugees in a processing center.
The highlight of his trip is the beatification of Philippine martyr Lorenzo Ruiz and 15 Japanese, French, Italian and Spanish martyrs in the first such ceremony to take place outside of Vatican. Beatification is the next to last step in the Catholic Church's procedure in determining whether an individual should be venerated as a saint. Those to be beatified here are a group of 17th century martyrs, who were killed in Japan for not renouncing their faith.
Apparently eager to play a hostess role, Mrs. Marcos had sent emissaries to Cardinal Sin, offering her resources as minister of human settlements and governor of metropolitan Manila. The government even offered to pay for the whole visit but Sin parried that proposal.
The church then found that she had stopped construction of the alter and platform at Luneta Park in downtown Manila where the beatification ceremonies are to be held before an audience expected to number 2 million. The reason, church leaders were told, was that the government could not spend money since the pope was not on a state visit.
A quick trip to Malacanang Palace by Cardinal Sin to see Marcos got his promise to full government cooperation in the final days of preparations.
But Imelda Marcos suggested further changes in the design of the papal alters and the "pope-mobile," a converted open jeep to be used by the pontiff for his journey from the airport. Irate bishop and priests finally asked her to a meeting last week reportedly "to let her have her final say."
Mrs. Marcos told church leaders that the government will contribute $600,000 toward the costs of the papal visit, which the church estimates will exceed $4 million. This contrasts with the 1970 visit of the late pope Paul VI -- the first papal visit to the Philippines -- when the government picked up most of the tab.
Logistics and security for John Paul's visit are being handled entirely by the government.
Church and military security officials are "placing our faith in God" that there won't be a repeat of 1970 when a deranged Bolivian painter tried to stab Paul VI moments after his arrival at Manila Airport.
Veterans of that visit recall that communication facilities were in place a month before Paul VI arrived. This time, however, telephone and telex lines for the 2,500 journalists expected to cover John Paul are still not installed and there are uncertainities about accomodations in the six far-flung provincial capitals he is to visit.
The Manila press has attacked the church for wanting government cooperation on security and logistics yet insisting on its own say.
The pope's punishing schedule also has come under attack by the press, which said it was more suited to a man half the pope's age. But Sin said, "We prepared nine schedules and the Holy Father chose the most hectic one."