A Tale of Two Priests

Community Voices

By Ramon Casiple for Yahoo! Southeast Asia

The 2013 local elections will have two priests running for governorship of two provinces. Not only do these events indicate a trend but these reflect the seriousness of the problems of traditional politics in the Philippines.

Fr. Eduardo "Among Ed" Panlilio will run for re-election for the post of Pampanga governor while Fr. Leo Casas will run for the first time for the post of Masbate governor. Both were executive director of the social action centers of their respective dioceses. From this vantage point, they observed the corruption, political violence, and subversion of the people's will by the traditional elite who—as they consolidate power—developed the political dynasties that today dominate much of our political landscape.

In time, the lesson sinks in. The political elite will not relinquish the power or allow meaningful participation of ordinary citizens in governance. They would prevent the emergence of leaders from below or coopted them into the traditional political system. The electoral contest in many places reduces to one between a "greater or lesser evil."

The dearth of viable candidates is directly related to the extremely weak political party system. The latter cannot function independently of their elite leadership and serves only to maintain the facade of democratic choice, mobilizer of warm bodies, and otherwise serve to support the pre-determined candidacies of dynastic figures.

Frs. Panlilio and Casas represent the alternative road to anti-dynastic politics. Once again, church people are rising to the call of political reforms in the country, just as they did before during the Marcos dictatorship. They blaze the trail in this endeavour, making the point that ordinary citizens and their leaders can participate meaningfully in democratic elections.

However, they face formidable odds. When Fr. Panlilio won in the 2007 elections and lost narrowly in the 2010 elections, both the positive and negative lessons of solid organizing, wide-ranging coalition-building, and painstaking education of the citizen-voters came to the fore.

Will these lessons be really learned? To be sure, the starting point now is far different and on a higher plane than in the last elections. Both run under the ruling liberal Party, with support from the President himself. The president's reform agenda is well within their own platform and they therefore embody the continuing reform momentum under this administration.

In Pampanga, Fr. Panlilio runs against the still-formidable machinery of former Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her hand-picked governor-candidate Lilia Pineda. In Masbate, Fr. Casas runs against the warlord families in the province. They have their work cut out for them. The voters of Pampanga and Masbate also have their choices before them, as clear as never before. Will they deliver the votes?