ILOILO CITY, Philippines—The national organization of the Catholic laity has thrown its support behind beleaguered Pampanga Governor Eddie “Ed” Panlilio, who is facing a recall campaign to oust him from office.
In a statement issued Wednesday at the culmination of a three-day national convention of the Council of the Laity of the Philippines held here, the national organization of Catholic lay people declared their support for Panlilio’s campaign to “promote integrity and honesty in government.”
The statement was issued as Catholic Church leaders called on the laity to be at the forefront of the fight against graft and corruption and for good governance barely two years before the next national elections in 2010.
“We are backing (Panlilio) in his fight for good governance and his battle against the proposed recall, which will bring to naught his noble and difficult work against graft and corruption,” the group said in a statement.
The resolution was approved by around 500 delegates representing the dioceses of the country.
Panlilio, who is on leave from his duties as priest, was one of the speakers during the opening of the convention last Monday. He was no longer around when the resolution was passed on Wednesday, according to convention secretariat member Joseph Jesalva.
He won the gubernatorial race in a landmark victory against powerful political figures, defeating former provincial board member Lilia Pineda and then incumbent Governor Mark Lapid in the 2007 elections. He rode on a platform calling for reforms, good governance and an end to traditional politics of money, patronage, influence-peddling.
But he is facing a recall bid initiated by a non-government organization led by a former election campaigner of Pineda.
Citing loss of confidence in the governor’s leadership, the group aims to gather the signature of at least 100,000 registered voters in the province. The number is more than 10 percent of the 977,000 registered voters of Pampanga, a requirement in a recall election.
Church leaders have called on lay people to be more active in fighting graft and corruption.
Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), who spoke during the convention, said graft and corruption has been among the most pressing problems of the country.
“The convention is very practical because this is a good preparation for the forthcoming national elections,” Lagdameo told the Philippine Daily Inquirer, parent company of INQUIRER.net.
“The Church encourages the vigorous participation of the laity in governance not only in the Church but also of society. The laity must be at the forefront in solving our social problems,” the prelate said.
Bishop Gabriel V. Reyes, chair of the CBCP’s Episcopal Commission on the Laity, said lay people could help minimize if not eradicate corruption.
“Bishops and priests can only exhort them to do it and to provide spiritual formation, but they should be at the forefront,” Reyes said in a separate interview.
He said that based on reports and accounts of lay people, graft and corruption in government has been worsening.
“The challenge to all government officials in all levels of governance is to live the faith,” said Reyes.
In his homily during a Mass, Reyes acknowledged that corruption in government has been institutionalized in the country.
“It must be hard to be good, to be a Christian politician in the Philippines,” he said.
Reyes said he could see corruption even in the Church.
“There is corruption in the Church because we are human. But not as much as in government,” he said, drawing laughter and applause from the audience.
When interviewed later, Reyes said the practice of giving the “SOP,” or kickbacks to government officials as “standard operating procedure” in state-funded projects, purchases or transactions, should be stopped.
Reyes lamented the accepting attitude of most people to corruption.
“There must be a change in mindset. It is not acceptable. It is wrong,” said Reyes.