MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Catholic Priest Seeks Elected Office As Mandate For Change

Published by MAC on 2007-04-17
Source: UCANews

Catholic priest seeks elected office as mandate for change


17th April 2007

QUEZON CITY, Philippines - A third priest in the Philippines has decided to vie for elected office, saying the post of governor would help him end the Small Town Lottery (STL) and mining operations in his province.

Father Ronilo Omanio of the Apostolic Vicariate of San Jose told UCA News, "We (San Jose vicariate) are celebrating the Year of Social Concern, and part of our concern is the STL, and only the governor can stop it." The vicariate is based on Mindoro Island, about 250 kilometers (about 155 miles) south of Manila, and covers Occidental Mindoro province.

Two other priests already announced their candidacy for public office in the May 14 election. Father Crisanto de la Cruz of Zamboanga Archdiocese and Father Eddie Panlilio of San Fernando Archdiocese are running for Zamboanga City mayor and Pampanga provincial governor, respectively.

Speaking on April 16, Father Omanio said he decided to run after Governor Josephine Ramirez-Sato extended the STL contract at the end of March, even though provincial board members voted against it.

Initiated by the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, Small Town Lottery is a legal lottery meant to replace the illegal numbers game jueteng.

In a 2005 statement on gambling, the Catholic bishops of the Philippines said they had agreed "to denounce illegal gambling in all its forms and prevent its legalization" and "to combat the expansion of organized and systemic legal gambling."

Father Omanio also maintained that as governor he would be in a position to protect the poor against large-scale mining now entering the province, which has rich mineral reserves. "If I am elected, I will review all these mining contracts and stop the exploitation of our natural resources," he said.

Upon learning that the priest filed his certificate of candidacy on March 29 with the Commission on Elections, Bishop Antonio Palang of San Jose suspended him from priestly duties. He had been in charge of Holy Cross Parish and the Holy Cross Parish Mangyan Mission in Santa Cruz town.

Father Mario Ronquillo, chancellor of the vicariate, told UCA News on April 13 that Father Omanio's candidacy came as a surprise to the bishop and all 13 diocesan and 17 religious priests in the vicariate.

"He did not ask for permission to run for public office. We found out after he had already filed. The bishop was surprised. The church was not asked for its advice," Father Ronquillo said.

On March 30, Bishop Palang released a pastoral letter in which he explained Father Omanio is not an "official candidate" of the Catholic Church.

Father Ronquillo said Father Omanio's situation differs from that of the two other priests seeking election, who asked to be suspended from priestly duties after talking with their bishops before they filed their candidacy papers. "Only after he was suspended did Father Omanio come to see the bishop as to why he was running," the chancellor reported. "The bishop explained that the church had taken stands on all of these issues (gambling and mining) already."

Father Omanio acknowledged the church had spoken on the issues but insisted his candidacy is a matter of "good governance." He said his 15 years' experience as a priest is a "guarantee of good governance," and he credited the church for his understanding of important social issues.

Though registered as an independent candidate, Father Omanio admits that Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (Kampi, partners of the Filipino people), the political party of President Gloria Arroyo, is sponsoring his election bid.

"I have no money to run my campaign, so I have accepted the offer of Kampi to pay for campaign materials and especially for poll watchers to protect my votes," he told UCA News. The priest emphasized that he made it clear to Kampi he would have no utang na loob (debt of gratitude) to them should he win. "I will owe no one anything except the people," he stated.

"I told him (the bishop) if I were to lose, I would return to my priestly duties, and while on leave I would remain faithful to my priestly vows, and especially the vow of celibacy," the priest said.

According to statistics, 82 percent of Occidental Mindoro's 314,866 people are Catholics.

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