POSTSCRIPT / April 26, 2007 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Support pouring out for Pampanga priest

ANGELES CITY — Residents of this chartered city do not vote for a governor, but many of them are going all-out anyway for a Catholic priest running for Pampanga’s top elective post.

Fr. Eddie Tongol Panlilio, former parish priest of Betis, is vying for governor in response to a pained lament that Capampangans had been reduced to choosing in the May elections the lesser of two evils, between a “quarrying king” and a “jueteng queen” so to speak.

Many Angeleños active in civic and lay organizations have been campaigning outside the city for Panlilio in answer to a pastoral call of their archbishop, Most Rev. Paciano B. Aniceto, that in their moral dilemma, they should “reject the evil, choose the good.”

Their worldly exterior may not show it, but Capampangans have an innate religiosity that often tilts the balance when they are to make a delicate decision.

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OUTPOURING: The outpouring of support for independent candidate Panlilio is just amazing.

When normally candidates gave away t-shirts, his volunteers sold donated t-shirts for P100. Candidates normally treated voters to food and drinks, but here people jostled to have Among Ed as their guest.

In a fund-raising dinner last week, contributions flowed like honey. One donor insisting to be listed only as anonymous handed a check for P1 million.

One rich family with a thriving business pledged to pay for all campaign materials, whatever the cost.

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THE CHILDREN: Some candidates for vice governor, mayor, vice mayor and councilors from the towns thought to be under the influence of either the “quarrying king” or the “jueteng queen” have placed Ed Panlilio at the top of their sample ballots.

And the children milling around — one of the surest indicators of who is leading in an election — have only “Among Ed” on their lips and his campaign materials in their hands when they go home.

Assistance is also streaming from other provinces. From abroad, Capampangans pray and send dollars home to contribute to Panlilio’s campaign.

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LAWYERS’ PACT: Four lawyers who usually appear as counsel for opposing candidates have joined hands this time and volunteered their full support and free legal services to Panlilio.

Election lawyers Romulo Macalintal, Sixto Brillantes, Pete Quadra and Leila de Lima, met him over the weekend in his headquarters in San Fernando, to the cheers and delight of his supporters and the media covering his campaign.

The lawyers presented Panlilio a Pollwatching Guide and Primer that they prepared specifically for his poll watchers to use in protecting his votes on May 14.

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VOTE-GUARDING: The lawyers also prepared an individual Certificate of Votes (COV) which, they said, is the best legal substitute for an election returns since Panlilio, being an independent candidate, is not entitled to a copy of the returns.

His watcher has the right to demand from the board of election inspectors a COV reflecting Panlilio’s votes. Any teacher who fails or refuses to issue such COV to the watchers is liable for an election offense punishable by six years imprisonment.

The lawyers assured the priests workers that with the COV, votes cast for him will be protected.

If any protest arises from a conflict in the reporting of the votes in the COV, they will appear as counsel for Panlilio.

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SEPARATION ISSUE: Is Fr. Panlilio’s running for public office not a violation of the principle of separation of the Church and the State?

I am not a lawyer, but I guess the issue of separation does not arise, because Fr. Panlilio, although a priest, is not the Church.

Besides, if this Filipino has all the qualifications and none of the disqualifications of a candidate, there is no valid reason why he should not be allowed to run. The Commission on Elections, the authority on this, has allowed him.

Last month, I asked Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno in a conversation if a priest, specifically Fr. Panlilio, may legally run for governor.

The Chief Justice said that from the point of view of the government, there was no bar to his candidacy provided he is qualified. If there is a problem, he said, it might be on their (Church) side.

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THE PRODIGAL: Days later, I bumped into Msgr. Aniceto at Clark Field, and asked him the same question.

He also said that there was no civil law barring Panlilio, but that canon law (of the Church) does not allow priests to hold a government office.

What if the priest insists on running? The archbishop, who is Fr. Panlilio’s superior, said he would have to impose penalties. For one, he said, he would suspend him.

There is a maxim saying “once a priest, always a priest.” Being a sacrament, priesthood leaves an indelible mark that cannot be erased. Even if a priest ends up in hell, he would still be a priest as he burns.

Msgr. Aniceto clarified that what would be suspended is not Fr. Panlilio’s priesthood, but his priestly functions, such as his authority to officiate at mass and weddings and administer the other sacraments.

I asked what if Fr. Panlilio wins and serves his term, then returns to the ministry? The archbishop just flashed a smile that reminded me of the story of the Prodigal Son.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 26, 2007)

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