Casas accepted the nomination even if he knew that he would be stripped of his priestly functions by Bishop Jose Bantolo of the Diocese of Masbate, his immediate superior.
Casas told the Philippine Daily Inquirer by phone on Monday that he sought Bishop Bantolo’s permission on Sunday and that during their “fatherly” conversation, he was told by the prelate he would be suspended from the priesthood should he proceed with running for governor.
But there is no turning back for Casas.
Casas said he would file on Friday his certificate of candidacy for governor of Masbate, in a run that would put him in a three-way fight against the powerful Kho and Lanete clans, who have long been expected to duel for the top post on the island-province in the May 2013 midterm elections.
The decision, according to Casas, was hard since he has been into priesthood “all his life” and he knew that he had to leave the ministry in order to enter politics.
“It is now the time to stand up for Masbate,” said Casas, a Masbateño, in a phone interview on Monday.
Casas, a native of Placer town, 70 kilometers south of provincial capital Masbate City, said he came to the decision to run after being urged by various sectors such as the fisherfolk and those from the civil society and business sectors in Masbate.
He said he would run on the platform of eradicating poverty and ending the political dynasty in Masbate, which he said has remained “poor despite abundant natural resources.”
Before his foray into electoral politics, Casas has been serving as one of the conveners of the Masbate Advocates for Peace, an organization of various sectors in Masbate formed in 2010 with the aim of ending political violence in the island-province.
“There are also sensitive issues that need to be addressed in Masbate including environmental problems such as rampant illegal fishing,” Casas said.
He said the peace and order situation on the island province also needed some fixing.
“The past and current leaderships in the province seemed to have different priorities,” he said.
The Inquirer tried to contact Bantolo through his cell phone number for his statement on the candidacy of Casas but the bishop did not reply.
Casas said the he received neither endorsement nor blessing from the bishop who he said categorically told him that the Catholic Church would not endorse and would have nothing to do with his candidacy.
He said the bishop was specifically worried that he could be left in midair by those who pushed for his candidacy.
He said the nomination by the LP came after he was endorsed by Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo, widow of the late Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo and chair of the Liberal Party in Camarines Sur, and Albay Governor Joey Salceda, chair of the Bicol Regional Development Council who would running for reelection under LP.
He said he met Robredo in Naga City last week. Robredo did not reply when the Inquirer contacted her for confirmation of her supposed endorsement of Casas following a meeting with him.
Casas, the director of the Social Action Center of the Diocese of Masbate for seven years, has been the co-chairman of the Bicol Regional Development Council representing private sector since 2007.
Rizalina Seachon-Lanete is the incumbent governor of Masbate and is seeking reelection. Aside from Casas, second district Representative Antonio Kho is expected to challenge her.
Seachon-Lanete was erstwhile representative of the third district when she ran and won for governor in 2010, defeating then reelectionist governor Elisa Olga Kho, wife of Antonio.
Antonio, the patriarch of the Kho clan, had also been the governor of Masbate before he was replaced by his wife Elisa Olga in 2007, during which he also won the congressional seat of Masbate’s second district.
His son Wilton has been the mayor of Cataingan, one of the largest towns of Masbate, since 2007, when the younger Kho was just 21.
Seachon-Lanete, in turn, was replaced by his son Scott Davies as third district representative.
The older Kho, when sought for comment on the prospect of facing a priest in the gubernatorial race, only sent a short text message that said: “well and good.”
Harvey Keh, convener of Kaya Natin, a “non-partisan movement that espouses genuine change and ethical leadership in the country,” said he did not see any problem with Casas running for governor of Masbate.
“As long as he will seek dispensation properly [from his bishop],” said Keh.
Keh said he was hoping that more would follow the “courage” of Casas in “not allowing political dynasties to flourish in the provinces.”
“I just hope that he is capable and the people of Masbate would listen to his platforms,” Keh added.
Casas is free to run for governor, according to Masbate City Mayor Socrates Tuason, an LP stalwart in the province. “We are a democracy. Everyone is free to dream,” he said.
Placer Mayor Joshur Judd Lanete, son of Governor Seachon-Lanete, said he welcomed the candidacy of Casas as it would give more options for the people of Masbate.
A top official in Masbate, who requested that his name be withheld due to the sensitivity of the issue, expects the local election in the province in May 2013 to be hotly contested because the most bitter political rivals are expected to fight for top posts head on.
“The hotspots could be the towns of Dimasalang, Esperanza, Balud, Placer, and Aroroy,” the official said.
The official said partisan armed groups in the province, although weakened, have been reorganizing in time for the local election.
“Sad thing is that the partisan armed groups can be dismantled but the politicians that handle them cannot be,” the official added.
Senior Supt. Heriberto Olitoquit, provincial director of the Philippine National Police in Masbate, said only one case in the province, the shooting of a Masbate City clerk of court, touted as a possible candidate for vice mayor in Mandaon town, has been deemed election-related for now.