Saying he could not allow Pampanga to be left behind in the Philippines’ advance toward progress, President Benigno Aquino III on Friday fielded Catholic priest Eddie Panlilio as his administration’s candidate for governor in the province controlled by the followers of his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

The President also endorsed Panlilio’s running mate, lawyer Ma. Amalia Tiglao-Cayanan, Mayor Oscar Rodriguez and lawyer Vivian Dabu as the Liberal Party’s official candidates in Pampanga’s third and second districts.

“I know that Pampanga will be in good hands under their leadership, and I am sure that it is only toward progress that they will lead the people of Pampanga,” Mr. Aquino said in Filipino in a speech during the induction of 1,000 local leaders of the ruling Liberal Party in this province.

By fielding Panlilio, a priest since 1980, Mr. Aquino sees the election in Pampanga as a battle between reform and patronage politics, represented by Arroyo’s bosom friend, Gov. Lilia Pineda, whose husband, Rodolfo “Bong” Pineda, had been investigated by Congress in one attempt to eradicate the illegal numbers game “jueteng,” a source of corruption in local governments. Pineda has long been suspected as a jueteng lord.

Mr. Aquino is banking on his popularity to break the Pinedas’ grip on Pampanga and bring the agriculturally productive province into the centerpiece program of his administration, good government.

Choosing politics

Panlilio has “opted to leave the priesthood and apply for a dispensation from the priestly office,” according to Fr. Larry Sarmiento, spokesperson of the Archdiocese of San Fernando.

Sarmiento said Panlilio made his decision after meeting with Archbishop Paciano Aniceto on Thursday.

“With a heavy heart, the archbishop has decided to respect Among Ed’s decision in conscience to leave the priesthood in favor of politics,” Sarmiento said, using the local honorific term for showing respect toward Panlilio.

Panlilio said he applied for dispensation in 2010, but it did not progress in Rome.

Liberal Party president Joseph Abaya, the new secretary of transportation and communications, led the oath-taking of the local party leaders at Heroes Hall here.

Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, LP president-on-leave, Sen. Franklin Drilon, who serves as LP campaign manager, and LP Secretary General Mel Sarmiento were also at the oath-taking.

Stand together

President Aquino urged the LP recruits to be united, saying the pace of progress speeds up through cooperation.

“We now have the chance to advance not only Pampanga but the whole nation as well toward the realization of our vision,” Mr. Aquino said.

“Give me a chance to help you. I cannot let Pampanga be left behind in the progress that is being attained by the Philippines,” he added.

Mr. Aquino said he would “advance the full liberation of Pampanga.”

“Remember this: If the local leadership is inefficient, the future of our people will remain bleak,” he said.

He then turned to Panlilio, and urged him to “lead Pampanga again as governor.”

Showing its approval, the audience broke into applause and cheers for Panlilio.

Third time around

Panlilio, 58, is running for public office for the third time.

He defeated reelectionist Gov. Mark Lapid, the son of Sen. Lito Lapid, and Provincial Board member Lilia Pineda in the 2007 gubernatorial election.

In February 2010 he was unseated by the Commission on Elections, which proclaimed Pineda the winner after a recount of votes that did not include ballots destroyed in a fire.

In the May elections that year, Panlilio challenged Pineda but with all Pampanga towns controlled by Arroyo’s allies, he lost.

Sarmiento said the Archdiocese of San Fernando was drafting a new dispensation request, which would be signed “the soonest” by Panlilio, who remains suspended from the priesthood.

“Don’t get me wrong. I love the priesthood,” Panlilio said. “When I talked with the archbishop, I said I don’t blame you if it took you so long to accept me back. Perhaps it’s God’s way of opening another door for me to offer another expression of my priesthood,” he said.

Which one is better?

Like most politicians, Pineda went to church to hear Mass before filing her certificate of candidacy on Friday.

She told reporters that she would ask Pampanga voters to “watch and listen” to Panlilio’s platform of government so that they could decide which was the best for the province.

Pineda said health and social services would remain her priorities, but she would also give attention to agriculture and job creation.

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She told reporters that she would ask Pampanga voters to “watch and listen” to Panlilio’s platform of government so that they could decide which was the best for the province.

Pineda said health and social services would remain her priorities, but she would also give attention to agriculture and job creation.

Aquino fields Panlilio vs Pineda in Pampanga

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