Sunday, January 13, 2008

Gov. Ed Panlilio is Inquirer’s Filipino of the Year 2007

Philippine Daily Inquirer, 01/13/2008

MANILA, Philippines -- “Among” Ed Panlilio, priest turned plain-dealing prophet of hope, is the Inquirer’s Filipino of the Year for 2007.

The governor of Pampanga, according to Inquirer sources, is facing a do-or-die struggle with the 3 Rs of no-holds-barred political resistance—recount, recall and ‘‘requiem.”

The first refers to the election protest his closest rival in the May 2007 polls filed against him; the third to the death threats he has received. The second is an unusual and rarely used tactic in Philippine politics—a recall petition to remove him from office, which his political enemies are poised to file as soon as the one-year condition is met.

All three offer proof that the almost miraculous election victory of Panlilio is a silver dagger thrust at the heart of the vampire known as transactional politics—and the vampire is fighting back.

His victory and the improbable campaign that made it possible will be studied by election strategists and political analysts for a long time to come. His practical but principled approach to governance, which includes both directing the work of idealists and carefully diagnosing festering ills before prescribing a cure, is both exemplary and empowering.

Not least, his first months in office are a showcase of effective executive action.

In the most dramatic turnaround he has engineered, lahar quarrying fees have jumped from less than P30 million during the last full year of his predecessor, Gov. Mark Lapid, to almost P120 million in his first six months in office.

For all these—his inspiring election victory, his surprising political savvy, his initial success despite great difficulty—the Inquirer names Gov. Ed Panlilio as 2007’s Filipino of the Year.

The choice reflects the sporadic outbreak of optimism that brightened an otherwise bleak year. Many other harbingers of hope emerged out of the political darkness: Chief Justice Reynato Puno inaugurated a new era in judicial statesmanship by leading the Supreme Court in hosting an unprecedented summit on extrajudicial killings and in launching extraordinary new legal remedies; the Sandiganbayan special division trying deposed President Joseph Estrada on plunder convicted him on two of the four charges, reaffirming the primacy of the rule of law in a well-reasoned and highly convincing decision; the first three Filipino women to climb Everest did so on their first attempt, thrilling a grateful nation; not least, the Overseas Filipino Worker continued to labor in other countries at great personal cost, helping through regular remittances to stabilize the entire trillion-peso economy.

Any of these icons of inspiration would have richly deserved being named Filipino of the Year. But Inquirer editors ultimately chose “Among Ed” Panlilio, in part because the hope he embodies is found where despair is deepest: politics, in the age of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Panlilio, 54, has left an indelible impact on national politics in another, altogether unforeseen way. He exposed the distribution of cash gifts—bundles of cash, contained in paper bags—that took place in Malacañang last October.

In truth, Panlilio did not so much expose the cash gifts handed out to governors (and, as it turned out, also to congressmen) as admit that he received his share: P500,000, handed to him by Bulacan Gov. Jon-Jon Mendoza, who also received the same amount in the same kind of paper bag.

Both governors said they received the money in good faith, and assumed it came from government funds and were to be used for barangay projects.

But the simple act of confirming receipt of the money ignited a political firestorm. Malacañang and its political allies issued many contradictory statements—disavowing any knowledge of the cash gifts, claiming to know their true source, or creating implausible versions of the circumstances.

If the controversial Pulse Asia survey conducted later in October is any gauge, the firestorm quickly consumed much of what was left of President Arroyo’s political reputation. That month, a plurality of voting-age Filipinos thought Ms Arroyo was the most corrupt President in history, outranking even the dictator Ferdinand Marcos. It may well be that that dismal finding can be traced directly to Panlilio’s disclosure.

This may help explain the intense animosity many Pampanga local officials feel toward Panlilio, many of whom are closely identified with a President who is a favorite provincemate. But the priest-on-leave’s candor did not start it. It started when Panlilio dared to throw his social worker’s hat (and his parish priest’s soutane) into the ring. His upset win hurt the political forces allied with former Provincial Board Member Lilia “Baby” Pineda, the wife of alleged ‘‘jueteng” lord Bong Pineda—they were headed for a victory over Lapid, the lackluster reelectionist incumbent, before Panlilio’s entry galvanized the so-called middle forces in Pampanga.

The animosity deepened when Panlilio took his anticorruption platform seriously. When he revamped the lahar quarrying fees collection scheme, he antagonized not only the political forces allied with the Lapids but also many of the local officials who, judging from their incomprehensible reaction to the new arrangement, must have benefited from the old one too.

It is already a part of political lore that Panlilio did not, in fact, intend to run for governor. When he, together with many of his provincemates, realized in 2006 that the looming choice for governor was stark—it was either Mrs. Pineda or the young Mr. Lapid—he joined a concerted effort to look for a third candidate. The group’s objective was to persuade eminent Kapampangans, including former Cabinet secretaries and university professors, to offer their provincemates an alternative.

But while the search was begun in optimism, it eventually ran into the depressing reality of Philippine politics. Entrenched political dynasties, the politics of personality, deep-rooted patronage watered by the irrigation systems of jueteng and quarrying fees: The race for Pampanga governor seemed to be over even before it started.

With such long odds, the search looked destined to fail. In the end, Panlilio heeded the call of like-minded citizens and offered himself, reluctantly, as the alternative.

It was not an easy decision. To run for public office, Panlilio needed to go on leave from the priesthood. For someone who has been a priest since 1981 and parish priest of Santiago Apostol church (in Betis, Pampanga) since 1998, the suspension of one’s priestly faculties was a wrenching, almost impossible, sacrifice. Finally, a few days before filing his certificate of candidacy, Panlilio met with his superior, Archbishop Paciano Aniceto of San Fernando, and asked for and received a dispensation.

The rival political camps had extensive political networks and even (both parties claimed) the tacit support of Ms Arroyo. Lacking both the money and the network, supporters of the third way in Pampanga had yet an abundance of idealism. Volunteers multiplied; donations started to pour in.

What had started as a search had metamorphosed into a movement. Kapampangans from around the world spread the word. Politicians in Metro Manila took special notice. Four of the country’s top election lawyers crossed political lines to offer their services to Panlilio, for free.

The race was tight, violent and dirty. But the groundswell of support for Panlilio that began the day he filed his certificate using a “kariton” helped carry the day. With 219,706 votes, a mere 1,200 over Pineda’s 218,559 and only 9,000-plus over Lapid’s 210,875, the Commission on Elections declared him the winner.

His victory made him the first priest to be elected governor in the country’s history. It also inspired many Filipinos, not only in Pampanga or throughout the archipelago but even those among the OFW diaspora, that the light of hope can shine even in the blackest night.

Catholic Church preserves Art Deco mansion in Pampanga

By Tonette Orejas
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 01/01/2008

CITY OF SAN FERNANDO, Philippines -- An art deco-style mansion, designed by architect Fernando H. Ocampo for a relative here and bought by the Archdiocese of Manila as the official residence of Pampanga bishops, is being renovated in time for the 60th year of the Archdiocese of San Fernando.

The Arsobispado de Pampanga, formerly the Dison house on A. Consunji Street in the village of San Jose here, is now 85 percent restored. Hopefully restoration work would be completed in time the 60th anniversary of the Archdiocese of San Fernando as a diocese in 2008, according to Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, who supervised the heritage conservation project.

The house was built in 1935 for the couple Luis Dison and Felisa Hizon, Ocampo’s aunt on the side of his mother Leoncia who married Basilio Ocampo, gobernadorcillo (colonial governor) of San Fernando.

Monsignor Prudencio David, the vicar general of the Archdiocese of Manila, mediated for its purchase in 1948, which was approved by Archbishop Michael Doherty and Auxiliary Bishop Rufino Santos, a Kapampangan who later became the first Filipino cardinal.
Bishop Pablo David called the Pampanga diocese a “daughter” of the Manila archdiocese.

The cost of the two-story structure and the one-hectare lot on which it sits is not known to older priests. Some surmise it went for P300,000.

Ocampo first worked on the Dison house and later became involved in the restoration of the war-damaged Manila Cathedral.

David said Santos not only hired a Kapampangan architect to design the house, he also employed builders and craftsmen from the province.

Thanks to a Japanese gardener that the Dison couple hired to create a genuine Japanese garden, the Dison house survived the ravages of World War II.

Treated fairly by the couple, the gardener, who turned out to be a military officer, reciprocated by protecting the mansion.

After the war, the Dison family relocated to Manila and decided to sell the house to the Archdiocese of Manila. It was not known if the decision to move out of Pampanga was because of the peasant rebellion.

The mansion’s first tenant was Cesar Ma. Guerrero, the first bishop of the diocese of San Fernando. His term was from 1949 to 1957.

The house was witness to Guerrero’s devotion to the Virgin de los Remedios under whose auspices he began the crusade for peace when the province was rocked by agrarian unrest. The Virgin Mary’s canonical image has been enshrined in a chapel beside the house. The devotional practice continues to this day.

So when David agreed to restore the Dison house, he had in a way, come full circle. It was David’s maternal grandfather, Victoriano Siongco, owner of the Catholic Trade Center, who carved Mary’s image in the chapel.

Guerrero’s successor, Bishop Emilio Cinense, lived in the mansion during his term from 1957 to 1975 and three years after when he, as archbishop, saw the transition of the San Fernando diocese into an archdiocese on March 11, 1975.

For a decade starting 1978, Archbishop Oscar Cruz stayed in the room that Cinense built at the Mater Boni seminary, about two kilometers from the Arsobispado.

The present resident, Archbishop Paciano Aniceto, has also stayed here since 1989.

The archdiocese found use for the mansion as the office of the econome (finance officer) and mandated organizations like Adoracion Nocturna, Mayap A Balita publications and the Association of Parochial Schools.

During the Marcos regime and until now, the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines held office here, launching many civil liberty campaigns and fact-finding missions for desaparecidos (the disappeared).

The Social Action Center of Pampanga had its roots here in 1988, providing a venue to development workers, who in 1991, faced a big challenge in disaster management following Mt. Pinatubo’s eruptions.

The mansion, having witnessed so many significant events, was worn out by decades of use. A restoration was in order.
Bishop David said Aniceto, 70, gave him a free hand in the undertaking, working on a P1-million budget.

Before the restoration began in July 2006, Bishop David said the roof was leaking, the gutters were broken and the wooden floors creaked or sagged.

Through years of use, the mansion’s architecture had been altered. Glass panels covered the entire verandas on the first and second floors, shutting out elements harmful to the structure.

Additional panels hid the high ceilings and folding walls. A service staircase from the dining area to the second floor was removed. Some of the callado, originally in harp design, were missing. The French windows were permanently closed. Air-conditioned units were put in the wrong places.

Without formal training, David established the mansion’s original features “by taking a closer look at the house.”

He also relied on his personal familiarity with old houses and tapped a network of workers in the wood-carving village of Betis, his birthplace.

Work, as of the third week of December, was 85 percent completed, Bishop David said, adding that at this rate, the house has once again become a “fitting residence of the archbishop.”

On the first floor, two rooms have been converted into the offices of Bishop David and Bishop Roberto Mallari. The main hall serves as a conference room. The smaller room next to it is an office, complete with computers. The dining area and kitchen are clean and tidy.

The main staircase to the second floor is elegant, leading to a room that has been converted into a chapel. Here, there is an image of the Virgen de los Remedios on a refurbished altar.

The 14 Stations of the Cross, made by wood artisans, fit well in the 14 panels like they belonged there.

Bishop David has reserved the next room for the archbishop. Another room serves as a property office. The bigger hall is now a library with some heirloom pieces donated by Good Shepherd nun Tess Feliciano of Magalang town.

From the warehouse, they found two posters of national eucharistic congresses in 1929 and 1937 that have been framed. There is a concrete bust of Pope Paul VI and portraits of Pope Pius XII, John XXIII, John Paul II and Pope Benedict.

A mesa altar that Bishop David found in the warehouse of the Dominican Sisters in Apalit town has been refurbished, and now graces a corner in the hallway.

The tiles—Malaga upstairs and bronze-lined on the first floor— have been polished for a bright shine. A few pieces of wooden furniture, capia among them, were put to good use by replacing the worn-out parts with recycled pieces.

The efforts seemed to have appeased the unseen occupants.

“The ghosts are quiet now. On the first night I slept here, I slept soundly. The spirits must be happy now,” Bishop David said.

The heritage conservation work faces a threat, though. The Department of Public Works and Highways plans to raise the road by one meter, which would put it on the same level as the base of the house.