Days after the Taal Volcano began spewing a large plume of ash, steam and rocks in the Philippines, Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles met with Philippine President Rodrigo Roa Duterte on Jan. 15.
“The visit was exceptional. He was warm and gracious,” said Elder Cook, after the 35-minute courtesy visit at the Malago Clubhouse at Malacañan Palace.
Elder Cook was joined during the visit by Elder Evan A. Schmutz, Philippines Area President; Elder Aretemio C. Maligon, Area Seventy; and Edwin B. Bellen, deputy secretary for legislation of the Philippine Senate and a Latter-day Saint.
“Our people always support and sustain and pray for those who are leaders of nations, and we wanted him to know that our people did that,” said Elder Cook.
Among the topics discussed were the Jan. 12 eruption of Taal Volcano, located about 35 miles south of the capital city, and the Church’s efforts to provide evacuation centers in Church meetinghouses for Church and community members.
“We did stress that we’ve got five of our chapels that are being used for those who are evacuated who are fleeing from the effects of the volcano,” said Elder Cook.
To help alleviate pain and suffering due to the Taal calamity, Elder Cook presented Rolando Bautista, Department of Social Welfare and Development secretary, with a $20,000 donation from the Church. In addition, he announced a $100,000 humanitarian project fund that will support the creation of 5,200 food kits, 3,000 hygiene kits, and 1,000 sleeping kits. The Church also plans to donate face masks to protect residents from volcanic ash.
President Duterte was the mayor of Davao in the southern Philippines when the strongest typhoon on record at the time struck Tacloban in 2013. A devasting storm surge killed thousands and destroyed property. He was aware of the Church’s immediate relief efforts during that disaster, which included building temporary houses.
Elder Cook said he expressed gratitude for the Church’s history of reaching out after calamities or natural disasters. “He had a preexisting familiarity with the Church, and it was very positive.”
Programs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, such as Self-Reliance Services and Family Services’ Addiction Recovery Program, were also discussed.
Elder Cook continued, “We were able to talk to him about our 200th anniversary of the prophet Joseph Smith [receiving the First Vision], and … we referenced the Catholics who were celebrating 500 years of Christianity coming to the Philippines.”
There are more than 800,000 members of the Church in the Philippines, in more than 1,200 congregations. Missionaries serve in 23 missions in the country.
President Duterte is the 16th president of the Philippines and has held office since June 2016.
Elder Cook and Sister Mary Cook arrived in the Philippines on Jan. 11 and have spent the past five days ministering to members and Church leaders, including those directly impacted by the Taal Volcano. Elder Cook also attended an interfaith luncheon and met with other officials and media.
During the luncheon at the Philippine Area Office on Jan. 13, Elder Cook offered the prayers and faith of Latter-day Saints and “expressed our concern as a Church over the Taal [Volcano]. We’re concerned about everybody that’s affected, and we hope that we can contribute to anything that’s necessary to bless all faiths.”
This is the first time in 43 years the volcano has erupted.
Church members in the greater Manila area, in the cities of Lipa, Tanauan, Balayan and Agoncillo, gathered in local meetinghouses during the eruption.
All missionaries in the impacted area are safe and have been relocated or are staying in their homes.
Government officials issued a level 4 alert (5 is the highest level), meaning moderate volcanic ash is threatening Manila — the nation’s capital city which has a population of 21 million.
Speaking Sunday evening at a member devotional in the Mandaluyong-area, Elder Cook praised the resilience of Filipinos in the face of frequent disasters.
“I know that there are a lot of trials and hardships,” he said. “I was here not too long after Mount Pinatubo  had blown up and almost a million people had to leave their homes. But there is something about Filipinos that even when bad things happen, they rally, and they lift their spirits and they smile and they go forward.”
He blessed them with “the assurance of the Savior’s Atonement, which gives peace regardless of what we are faced with.”