MANILA, Philippines ? If and when elected president of the Philippines in 2010, Gov. Ed Panlilio of Pampanga province said, he will not declare the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos a hero and will see to it that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is prosecuted for corruption.
Panlilio, a priest who made history by running for public office and beating well-entrenched politicians in Ms Arroyo?s home province in 2007, made these statements on Thursday night before potential supporters who wanted to know about his platform should he run for president in 2010.
But Panlilio clarified to the group calling itself Philippines for Righteous Governance that he had not made up his mind regarding the presidency, and that he would rather be a convener of ethical and reform-minded leaders who would seek the top posts in the government.
The group gathered at the house of businessman Patrick Pantaleon in the upscale subdivision Forbes Park in Makati City and called on Panlilio and other ?nontraditional politicians? to join forces to win the presidency against Arroyo administration and opposition candidates. The names of preachers Bro. Eddie Villanueva and Bro. Mike Velarde, Chief Justice Reynato Puno, and even detained Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim were mentioned.
Panlilio agreed to talk about his possible platform on Pantaleon?s invitation.
Will ?definitely? prosecute
While professing reluctance to run for president, Panlilio candidly answered questions thrown at him by the group that gathered to ?get to know? him.
When asked if he would prosecute Ms Arroyo, he said: ?Oh yes, definitely. Definitely.?
To the question of whether he would declare Marcos a hero if he were asked by the dictator?s widow Imelda to do so, Panlilio was also categorical. ?I?m sorry,? he said, ?I will not declare Marcos a hero. My conscience would not permit that.?
When asked after the meeting to elaborate on his stand on Ms Arroyo, Panlilio said the President could be prosecuted for plunder after the end of her term in 2010.
?There are so many accusations against her, ill-gotten wealth, so many cases,? he told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
He said these cases were the reason Ms Arroyo wanted to stay in power through moves of her allies to amend the Constitution and install her as prime minister under a new parliamentary government.
?That is why she wants to run for Congress ? to impede? the possibility of being prosecuted, he said.
?Like a school?
Pantaleon said it was Panlilio?s character and moral leadership that drove the Philippines for Righteous Governance (PRG) to start mobilizing support for him as Ms Arroyo?s possible successor.
?He is running Pampanga like a school where lying, cheating and stealing are not allowed,? Pantaleon said in introducing Panlilio to the group.
Pantaleon and Pastor Melo Go said the group, alternately called PRG or ?the third force,? was seeking like-minded organizations to align with in the search for nontraditional politicians to run for president and vice president in 2010.
Pantaleon said the PRG was loosely composed of his group and a group called ?Ateneo at La Salle at Lahat Na,? which consists of alumni of Ateneo de Manila University and De La Salle University.
Also present at the meeting were representatives of Ateneo?s Movement for Good Governance, the Philippine Alliance of Ex-Seminarians, the workers? group Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino, the activist youth group Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan, the Sanlakas party-list group, the political party Partido Lakas ng Masa, and urban poor groups.
?We are looking for people who practice good governance,? Pantaleon said.
?The purpose of our meeting with Among Ed is to get leaders like him together,? he added. ?We will converge with other groups because we have to unite somewhere.?
?There is a phenomenon going on in our country now ? there is a call for righteous leaders,? Pantaleon said.
?There are many groups who want to know the good leaders, and hopefully we will meet. And by November, we will come up with one leader? who will run for president, he said.
David against Goliath
Go, who presented the group?s ?statement of unity,? said that only by joining forces could nontraditional politicians beat administration or opposition candidates.
?If four or five nontraditional candidates give way to each other, they can gather bigger votes, and Malacańang is afraid of that. If four or five candidates unite, it will be a battle of David and Goliath. We will win,? Go said.
Harping on the same theme, Panlilio said there were now ?islands of hope? in a country beset by corrupt leaders.
He cited the trailblazing feats of Gov. Grace Padaca of Isabela province, Mayor Jesse Robredo of Naga City and Mayor Sonia Lorenzo of San Isidro town in Nueva Ecija province ? his fellow members of Kaya Natin!, a movement formed by Ateneo?s Harvey Keh to promote good governance.
?If bad politicians can get together with their bad intentions, why can?t good politicians get together and make a difference?? Panlilio said.
He recalled how Pampanga residents weary of corruption in their province mounted a virtual People Power movement to install him as their leader, and noted how certain forces were now trying to remove him.
Panlilio remarked that he always went to work in a polo shirt and denims. ?I don?t wear barong,? he said. ?Because when I wear barong and I go to Malacańang, they give me P500,000.?
Panlilio was the first to confirm the distribution of paper bags containing P500,000 to local officials summoned to a meeting with Ms Arroyo in October 2007, when she was facing impeachment in the House of Representatives.
?As a last resort?
After his speech, Panlilio was quizzed about his possible platform.
?I just want to clarify that I have not decided to go for national office,? he said, adding that his priority was still to return to priesthood.
Panlilio was suspended from performing priestly duties when he became governor of Pampanga in 2007.
?But I am open as a last resort. If there is someone who is better, more competent, I?m willing to support that person. I will convince people to gravitate to that person,? he said.
Panlilio said he saw himself more as a convener of alternative candidates for 2010. He said potential presidential candidates should be ?willing and humble enough to undergo the process? of selection.
Panlilio said he met the previous night with Bro. Eddie Villanueva, leader of the Jesus is Lord movement, to discuss the need to field a common reform candidate.
Villanueva was preparing to launch his renewed bid for the presidency Saturday at the Araneta Center in Quezon City, Panlilio said.
But later, Panlilio said, Villanueva remained ?open to dialogue.?
?We said we will go our own ways now but we will see after a few months [if] we might merge,? Panlilio said.
Basis for unity
Asked if he was also considering Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim ? who is detained and being tried in military court for trying to mount a coup against Ms Arroyo?Panlilio said the latter could be one of the alternative leaders.
?But our priority now is to lay down the basis for unity, to set a vision for the Philippines, make our stand on land reform, human rights, the reproductive health bill, and the qualities we are looking for in a president,? he said.
Panlilio was scheduled to meet with Sen. Mar Roxas after the Thursday night meeting at Forbes Park.
He said he had been invited to meet with the senator, one of the contenders for the presidency. But he added that some members of Kaya Natin! were opposed to tapping Roxas because Roxas was considered a traditional politician.
State of decay
In its statement of unity, the PRG said the Philippines was in ?a state of moral decay perpetrated by our present leadership who have shamelessly displayed the absence of morality in governance, integrity, justice and love of country.?
It added: ?Our nation is tainted with crimes against God and humanity where human rights are systematically violated, resulting in the disappearance and death of over 1,000 Filipinos.
?We cannot anymore stand as mere spectators of dismal and flagrant display of historical failures to bring genuine social and economic reforms.
?The Philippines today needs genuine social and economic reforms that will be mustered by nontraditional politicians and a few exceptional politicians at all levels of public governance from the presidency down to the ?barangay? [village] level.? With editing by INQUIRER.net