I Disagree with the Choice of Fr. Panlilio as Inquirer Filipino of the Year 2007

Not that he doesn’t deserve it.

He certainly had the moral upper hand against his erstwhile political rivals — traditional politicians with questionable track records and even links to organized crime — and seems to be deeply sincere in his desire to clean up politics in his area of the country. But winning the governorship of Pampanga, on a platform of moral uprightness and not much else, might lead to unfulfilled expectations and bitter disappointments for the people. This is the “Cory Aquino” effect, where an inexperienced, albeit blameless, housewife was effectively stymied in most of her programs by long-standing vested interests. Her own social-class background aligned her with these elite interests. She was perceived as weak and vacillating. It didn’t help that she was ill-served by many of her advisers and that her relatives took advantage of her alleged good and trusting nature to engage in rampant corruption. She was thus bedeviled by coup attempts and her term characterized by horrendous human rights abuses, the most bloody being the Mendiola Massacre of protesting farmers.

It’s almost the same thing with Gov. Panlilio, a Catholic priest whose outlook, political or otherwise, is necessarily colored by his doctrinal beliefs and pastoral experience. Granted that he may not be naïve in the ways of the world, but his inexperience in realpolitik is certainly showing. How effective can he be when he has locked horns with almost all his local chief executives from the get-go ? His management style is also akin to the popular notion of a “servant-leader”, which sounds very good in John Maxwell seminars, but may not be as effective in the snake pit of local politics. The Inquirer, in its adoring front-page story, admits that he

“ 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.”

He will therefore be spending a good deal of his time and energies fending off political threats, making him vulnerable to a coterie of advisers and sundry hangers-on whose motives, intentions and agenda are as yet unknown. This is what happened with Cory and I fear would happen to Fr. Panlilio.

I would have voted the Overseas Filipino Worker as Filipino of the Year, they whose regular hard-earned remittances keeps the country afloat.

That said, I certainly wish Gov. Panlilio well in his anti-corruption crusade and join his province mates in praying for his success. To be fair, he has shown fiscal ability in effectively managing quarrying fees from the Pampanga lahar-strewn rivers, which jumped from less than P30 million during the last full year of his predecessor to almost P120 million in his first six months in office alone. This is undoubtedly a positive sign. At the very least, Fr. Panlilio has given us some relief from the bankruptcy of hope which characterizes politics under the Arroyo administration. I suppose the Inquirer was right after all in stating below its masthead that Gov. Panlilio gave

“Hope Where Despair Deepest”


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