Priest elected province governor in Philippines

Welcoming the election of Fr Eddie Panlilio as governor of the Pampanga province near Manila, Philippines Bishops Conference head, Archbishop Angel Lagdameo describes the priest's electoral victory as an "exception" to the rule against clerical political involvement.

Archbishop Lagdameo said Father Eddie Panlilio, 53, who was elected governor of Pampanga province, is "starting a new history" in his province as the first Catholic priest elected to public office in the Philippines. The province is 60 kilometers northwest of Manila, UCA News reports.

"My congratulations with sympathy go to Father Ed, whom his folks in Pampanga will learn to call 'Among Gov' (priest governor)," he said in his statement a day after the priest was proclaimed winner in a close race.

Father Panlilio faces a "new playing field for which he was not trained in the seminary," the prelate said, and this "political field" has "embedded, ingrained and systematic political problems" such as illegal gambling.

However, the national church leader also pointed out, Father Panlilio's election is an "exception" and "we (bishops) want to keep it that way."

The priest defeated incumbent Governor Mark Lapid, who had been implicated in corruption charges, and Lilia Pineda, the wife of alleged "gambling lord" Rodolfo Pineda. According to the official Commission on Elections (COMELEC), Father Panlilio received 219,706 votes, Pineda 218,559 and Lapid 210,875.

But local media reported on 21 May that Pineda's lawyers urged COMELEC to reconsider its rejection of their plea to exclude votes in northern Pampanga's Mabalacat municipality due to "excess and spurious" returns in the area.

Archbishop Lagdameo's one-page statement refers to the former parish priest's decision to run for governor as both a "call" and a "challenge to raise among the laity a new breed of political leaders."

Father Panlilio was the pastor of St James the Apostle Church in Guagua town before requesting and receiving a "suspension from priestly duties" from Archbishop Paciano Aniceto of San Fernando so as to run for governor.

"The suspension from priestly functions which his Archbishop gave him," Archbishop Lagdameo said, "is to ensure that there (is) no confusion between priesthood and politics, thus respecting the separation of church and state."

The archbishop also said he would dissuade any priest from running for public office because the priesthood is already "public," with its "peculiar burden and function for the sanctification and salvation of the people."

Bishop Edwin de la Pena, who heads Marawi prelature, 805 kilometers (about 500 miles) southeast of Manila, describes Father Panlilio's involvement in politics by running for governor as "extraordinary," an initiative that the level of "graft and corruption" in Pampanga forced the priest to undertake.

The bishop, a member of the Mission Society of the Philippines, said in an interview on church-run Radyo Veritas (radio truth) that Father Panlilio, as a "true Christian," felt the need to respond to the challenge of good governance.

Father Panlilio told UCA News before his campaign got underway that he viewed the chance to offer the people a "credible alternate candidate" as a victory in itself, and that winning would be a "bonus."

The priest said he would want to return to his priestly duties after serving a three-year term, but local media quoted Archbishop Oscar Cruz of Lingayen-Dagupan, a canon lawyer, as saying it would be hard for priests who run for government posts to return to the ministry.

However, Father Panlilio explained to UCA News, "I told the archbishop (Cruz) that I am ready to face the consequences of my decision. The priesthood is my life, and I intend to spend the rest of my life as a priest."

Priest's historic election win hailed by bishops' conference, but only as 'exception' (Catholic Online, 22/5/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Social Action Center of Pampanga
Pampanga province (Wikipedia)

Filipino "Braveheart" honoured (CathNews, 7/3/07)
Priest condemns re-opening of Aust mine in Philippines (CathNews, 13/2/07)

23 May 2007