Priest protesting Pantabangan anomalies faces probe
PANTABANGAN, Nueva Ecija—Bishop Roberto Mallari of the Diocese of San Jose vowed to look into the “whole picture” on the complaint of a group of residents, including the town’s vice mayor, against the town’s parish priest who has been leading protests against alleged anomalies in the municipal government.
Mallari was here on Tuesday for a regular pastoral visit but was greeted by a group of residents in black shirts seeking the removal of the parish priest, Rev. Fr. Ernie Pesimo.
The protesters, who included Vice Mayor Romeo Borja Jr., were apparently supporting Mayor Romeo Borja Sr. amid accusations that the Borja father-and-son tandem have been mishandling the finances of the municipal government.
Fr. Pesimo was at the forefront on Monday of a rally by municipal employees who are protesting the local government’s failure to pay their salaries and benefits. Relatives of the employees and members of nongovernmental organizations, like the Pantabangan Solidaridad Movement and Gabriela, joined the rally.
Fr. Pesimo, who also heads the Commission on Justice and Peace of the Diocese of San Jose, has been a vocal critic of the Borja administration and is often seen with protesters who have been assailing the Borjas for allegedly mismanaging the town’s funds.
Mallari said he met with Vice Mayor Borja on Tuesday and “he wanted us to relay their problems to the parish priest.”
The bishop said he has yet to talk with Pesimo but he suggested a dialogue between the priest and local officials.
“We would discuss the complaints raised against him and validate if these were true,” he said.
Pesimo said he has been joining protest actions against alleged anomalies in the local government because these involved people’s lives.
“We cannot separate issues concerning our stomach and soul,” Pesimo said.
On Monday, at least 500 government employees and residents in Pantabangan held a protest rally to press for payment of salaries and other benefits of local government workers.
But Mayor Borja described the protest action as “politically motivated” and challenged the employees and their supporters to just sue him.
The government workers and their supporters also assailed local officials for the supposed privatization of the Pantabangan Municipal Electric Services, the power distributor in the town.
They said they were not consulted about it and do not know the terms and conditions of the privatization of the town’s electric distribution firm. Armand Galang, Inquirer Central Luzon