MANILA, Philippines -- When someone asked what I thought about the candidacy of Fr. Eddie Panlilio, a parish priest in Pampanga province who was suspended from his post when he filed his candidacy for provincial governor, I said I wasn’t in favor of it because, as the Pope himself pointed out, politics is mainly the concern of the laity and the role of clergy and religious is merely to provide moral guidance to voters.
But this was before I read Randy David’s column last Sunday, where he told the story behind Father Panlilio’s decision to run for political office. The priest’s decision, he said, was born out of desperation: the two leading contenders for leadership in the province have links to the illegal numbers game “jueteng” and corruption, and no “lay person” was willing to risk money, reputation, time and even perhaps their lives to confront these political “giants.”
Gov. Mark Lapid is facing accusations of graft from the questionable collection of quarrying taxes. Lapid’s main rival, who enjoys the support of many Pampanga mayors, is board member Lilia Pineda, whose husband Bong is said to be the “kingpin” for many years now of the jueteng operations in the Central Luzon region.
Though he has risked much to take part in partisan battles in Pampanga, Father Panlilio, so a story in this paper indicates, is also finding a groundswell of support from volunteers and donors in the province. Not only are contributions in the form of campaign funds and campaign paraphernalia piling up, the camp of Panlilio also reports a wave of volunteers who have signed up as poll watchers and campaigners.
Of course, whatever amount the priest raises or the size of the army of volunteers he manages to muster will in all probability pale beside the war chests and forces of his two rivals for governor. But a grass-roots campaign like his, despite its romantic overtones, faces great odds. Victory is possible, but only if he is able to convince his province mates that their votes for him will not go to waste, if his followers remain vigilant and the votes he garners are all counted and reflected accurately in the canvassing.
I'm not from Pampanga but I too support his candidacy.
From Randy David:
As a son of Pampanga myself, I feel bad that I could not relieve Father Panlilio of the burden he had taken upon himself. Until the last minute, he was urging me to run. But I told him I did not know the situation of our province enough to presume that I could be its leader. Moreover, I reminded him that each one of us has a vocation, and that mine is not the political life. I think he was disappointed with my response.
The other day, accompanied by a throng of supporters from various civic groups, Father Panlilio walked the short stretch from the San Fernando Cathedral to the Commission on Elections to file his certificate of candidacy. I am told that the night before, my brother, Bishop Pablo David, auxiliary bishop of Pampanga, tried to dissuade him for the last time from crossing the line, but to no avail. Betis has lost a devoted parish priest, the Church has lost a fine preacher. I hope Pampanga realizes it has gained a leader.