Catholic hierarchy says no to Panlilio
The movement launched by a nebulous civil society group, oozing with messianic ardor, to draft Pampanga province’s Gov. Ed Panlilio for president in 2010 to save this country from the rapacity of the much-maligned “traditional politicians” has roiled the Catholic Church over the very secular notion of separation of church and state in a republican polity. The furor was sparked by the statement of Panlilio that he was “open to the possibility” of seeking the presidency in response to the civil society call.
The draft initiative seeks to make Panlilio run in 2010 with Isabela province’s Gov. Grace Padaca as running mate. The movement has described this tandem as credible “alternatives” to the widely reviled “trapos” [traditional politicos; literally, dirt rags], stigmatized as responsible for the degradation of politics over more than 50 years of representative democracy in this country.
It did not take much for Panlilio to succumb to, or to be titillated by, this flattery to consider himself as a much awaited messiah of Philippine politics.
We have always been exposed to the notion since the 1986 People Power Revolution that our political salvation lies in military coups and soldiers with messianic complex, of the likes of Lt. Col. Gregorio Honasan, Navy Lt. Antonio Trillanes III, and Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim — all failed coup makers. Now, the restless do-gooders in civil society, in a desperate search of alternatives outside the traditional political establishment and political elite, have narrowed their search to a member of the Catholic clergy as a political leader in times of crisis. This time the favored notion by civil society is if the trapos, and the soldiers have failed in reforming society, the man of the cloth might fill the leadership vacuum and become the inspired “man of the hour.”
Unfortunately for the promoters of this project in civil society, the Catholic hierarchy is not of the same mind. The Catholic hierarchy has been unsettled by the implications of this draft movement on the principle of separation of church and state.
Panlilio, who ran for governor in 2007 on a reformist and anti-corruption platform, defeated two administration-backed candidates, one of whom was identified with the underground lottery “jueteng” and the other with quarry syndicates in Pampanga. As governor, he wears two hats: that of a salaried public official and that of a priest on a vague status, considered by the hierarchy as “on leave.” As such, he stands astride a blurred line separating secular and priestly functions, which has bred conflict of interest situations as a secular power and minister tending to the spiritual needs of his flock as well to their secular concerns.
These conflicting demands have often been irreconcilable. For example, he was caught in a bind when he accepted cash handouts amounting to between P250,000 and P500,000 from Malacañang, distributed to congressmen, governors and mayors purportedly as assistance for their local projects, although the sums were actually intended to secure their support for a move to quash the impeachment complaint against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Panlilio later tried to return the money but Malacañang refused to accept it.
As a power holder and a priest, Panlilio unwittingly appeared to put into practice the dual secular and spiritual status of Iranian ayatollahs in a theocratic state, in a polity that declares a constitutional separation between church and state. The susceptibility of Panlilio to the inveiglement of a movement to draft him for the presidency and the embarrassing contradictions of his dual role were too much for the Catholic bishops to tolerate.
In what sounded like an ultimatum, Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, read the riot act to Panlilio. In a statement titled, “On the Question of Political Leadership,” Lagdameo minced no words in warning Panlilio to quit the priesthood if he runs for president in 2010.
Lagdameo cited a decree of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines, which forbids bishops, priests and religious from active involvement in partisan politics. Lagdameo said, “I presume that Governor E. Panlilio, who is a priest, has been told about this and knows it. If he plans to run for the presidency, in view of the separation of the church and the state, it is best for him to seek dispensation from the priesthood. And so he will be free to engage in partisan politics.”
Lagdameo explained that “dispensation from the priesthood” would mean removing Panlilio’s identity and authority as a priest. Panlilio was suspended from performing priestly duties when he ran for governor in 2007.
Lagdameo also reiterated the Church’s non-involvement in partisan politics. “The Church does not support and endorse any political candidate,” Lagdameo said. “This applies also to Governor Panlilio.” It would be up to civil society or members of the laity to identify and encourage potential and “non-trapo” leaders for political renewal. He quoted Pope Benedict XVI who said, “A big part of the vocation of Christian lay people is their participation in politics in order to bring justice, honesty and defense of true and authentic values of society.”
Lagdameo said there were alternatives to the kind of political leadership at present. “I believe that our country is not lacking in people from civil society who have the gifts of authentic, credible, moral and patriotic leadership,” he said.
In plain words, the message is: The clergy is off limits as a recruitment ground for political leadership. The Church cannot be more emphatic than that. Fold your tents.