Sex, lies, and videotape: A tale of three priests

IT’S been said that “victory finds a hundred fathers, but defeat is an orphan.” This quote accurately sums up the fate of three Catholic priests who threw their hats — or habits if you will — in the political ring in this year’s midterm elections.

Pampanga Governor-elect Fr. Ed Panlilio [from]While Father Ed Panlilio‘s electoral victory has been hailed as a triumph of good versus evil, and has even merited a statement from the influential Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), which welcomed the “exceptional” victory, not a squeak was heard about the fate of two other priests who ran — but lost — in the May 14 elections. Their names, much like their crusades, have faded into political oblivion.

Panlilio, who ran for governor, anchored his campaign on providing a “credible alternative candidate” for the people of Pampanga. The incumbent governor, Mark Lapid, has been accused of pocketing bribes from quarrying operations in the province, while the other candidate, Provincial Board member Lilia Pineda, has been associated with jueteng, being the wife of alleged gambling lord Rodolfo “Bong” Pineda.

Panlilio vowed to stop corruption and gambling in Pampanga. He won, despite being the subject of a smear campaign for allegedly fathering children with different women, a charge he vehemently denied.

In Occidental Mindoro, Father Ronilo Omanio’s gubernatorial bid seemed to mirror Panlilio’s: man of the cloth running for a local position, seeking to provide an alternative to long-time politician and incumbent governor Josephine Ramirez-Sato, and banking on the people’s sentiments against issues like mining and small town lottery.

Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (Kampi), the political party of reelectionist Representative Ma. Amelita Villarosa, as well as her husband Jose and son Anthony Voltaire, had no gubernatorial candidate on their slate. Kampi adopted Omanio.

On election day, no “miracle,” like the one that happened in Pampanga, was to be expected in Occidental Mindoro; Sato’s clout proved too much for the priest.

Although, Mindoreños were a witness to a miracle of a different sort, cooked up allegedly by the Villarosas, a powerful political clan in the province.

On May 14, a school teacher in San Jose was caught red-handed allegedly switching spurious ballots in favor of former congressman Jose Villarosa who ran for the the town’s mayoral post. The genuine ballots confiscated from the teacher showed votes for Omanio’s opponent, Ramirez-Sato.

The ballot-switching was allegedly masterminded by Jose. It was not clear whether Omanio knew of, or condoned, the alleged plan to rig the elections.

Meanwhile, in Zamboanga City, a priest’s mayoral bid met an even more controversial conclusion. Monsignor Crisanto dela Cruz, who resigned from priesthood when he decided to run for public office, lost to incumbent mayor Celso Lobregat.

Dela Cruz, who was the parish priest at St. Joseph Parish in the city, was suspended from the priesthood by the Zamboanga Archdiocese and was prohibited from using the title “mosignor” when he filed his certificate of candidacy.

A month after dela Cruz signified his intention to run as mayor, a sex video showing what reportedly looked like dela Cruz having oral sex with another man circulated around the city. The video was allegedly taken inside a hotel room using a phone with a video camera.

Dela Cruz has sought the help of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to apprehend the former priest’s bodyguard Ramil Luna.

Luna, a member of the Philippine Air Force, reportedly extorted money from dela Cruz in exchange for the videotape.

On election day, the video was once again circulated, providing an easy ammunition for dela Cruz’s political opponents.

The former priest denied that he was the man in the video, saying “with the advent of technology, nothing is impossible.”

All three members of the clergy were suspended from their priestly duties after launching their political bids.

Father Omanio’s suspension came from Occidental Mindoro Bishop Antonio Palang. A church circular stating that Omanio is not an official candidate of the Catholic Church was read in all parishes in the province.

Monsignor dela Cruz, according to Zamboanga Archdiocese spokesperson Monsignor David Alonzo, was suspended because the priest “violated Church Law when he decided to enter politics.”

The suspension was based on Canon Law number 287 Paragraph 2, a provision, the monsignor added, that specifically forbids the clergy to engage in partisan politics.

In a statement issued after Panlilio’s victory, Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, CBCP president, has explained that in Panlilio’s case, the suspension was “to ensure that there (will) be no confusion between priesthood and politics, thus respecting the separation of Church and State.” Panlilio’s suspension came from Pampanga Archbishop Paciano Aniceto.

Archbishop Lagdameo earlier said that he would be discouraging priests from running for public office, and added that Father Panlilio’s election is an “exception” and the bishops “want to keep it that way.”

The outspoken Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz, meanwhile, voiced doubts on the possibility of suspended priests being accepted back by the Church.

“Rome will not likely allow your return. Once you leave or are dismissed, there’s no turning back,” Cruz said in an interview.