LP fields Catholic priest for governor of MasbateBy Jonas Cabiles Soltes
Inquirer Southern Luzon
NAGA CITY—The Liberal Party (LP) on Monday officially nominated Leo Casas, 37, a Catholic priest, as its candidate for governor in Masbate, a province dominated by political clans and with a history of election-related violence.
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 Monday that he sought Bantolo’s permission on Sunday and that during their “fatherly” conversation, he was told he would be suspended from the priesthood should he run for governor.
But there is no turning back for Casas.
He said he would file on Friday his certificate of candidacy that would pit him in a three-way fight with the powerful Kho and Lanete clans.
He said the decision was hard because he knew that he had to leave the ministry to enter politics. “It is now the time to stand up for Masbate,” Casas said.
Pushed by sectors
Casas, a native of Placer town, 70 kilometers south of the provincial capital Masbate City, said he reached the decision after being pushed by various sectors, such as the fisherfolk, civil society and business sectors.
He said he would run under the platform of eradicating poverty and ending political dynasty in Masbate, which has remained “poor despite abundant natural resources.”
Before this foray into politics, Casas was among the convenors of Masbate Advocates for Peace, a multisectoral group that was formed in 2010 to seek an end to political violence in the province.
“There are also sensitive issues that need to be addressed in Masbate, including environmental problems such as rampant illegal fishing,” Casas said.
The priest said the peace and order situation in the 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 for his statement on the candidacy of Casas but the bishop did not reply.
Casas said he received neither endorsement nor blessing from the bishop who he said categorically told him that the Church would not endorse him and would have nothing to do with his candidacy.
He said the bishop was specifically worried that he could be left holding the bag by those who pushed for his candidacy.
Casas said the LP nomination came after he was endorsed by Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo, widow of the late Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo and LP chair in Camarines Sur, and Albay Gov. Joey Salceda, chair of the Bicol Regional Development Council who would be running for reelection under LP.
Casas 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, director of the Social Action Center of the Diocese of Masbate for seven years, has been the cochair of the Bicol Regional Development Council representing the private sector since 2007.
Rizalina Seachon-Lanete, the incumbent governor of Masbate, is seeking reelection. Aside from Casas, Rep. Antonio Kho of the second district, is expected to challenge her.
Lanete was a former representative of the third district when she ran for governor and won in 2010, defeating then reelectionist Gov. Elisa Olga Kho, wife of Antonio.
Antonio, the patriarch of the Kho clan, was governor of Mas bate before he was replaced by his wife Elisa Olga in 2007. He won the congressional seat of the second district that year.
His son Wilton has been mayor of Cataingan, one of the largest towns of Masbate, since 2007, when the younger Kho was just 21.
Lanete, in turn, was replaced by her son Scott Davies as third district representative.
‘Well and good’
Sought for comment on the prospect of facing a priest in the gubernatorial race, the older Kho sent a short text message that said: “Well and good.”
Harvey Keh, convener of Kaya Natin, a “nonpartisan movement that espouses genuine change and ethical leadership in the country,” said he did not see any problem with Casas running for governor.
“As long as he will seek dispensation properly [from his bishop],” Keh said.
He said he was hoping that more people would follow Casas in seeking not to allow political dynasties to flourish in 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, a son of Governor Lanete, said he welcomed the candidacy of Casas as it would give the people of Masbate more options.
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 were expected to fight for top posts.
“The hot spots 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, had been reorganizing in time for the local elections.
“The sad thing is that the partisan armed groups can be dismantled but not the politicians who handle them,” the official added.
Senior Supt. Heriberto Olitoquit, provincial director of the Philippine National Police in Masbate, said one case—the shooting of a Masbate City clerk of court—touted as a possible candidate for vice mayor in Mandaon town, was deemed election-related for now.