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Catholic priest elected into office in Philippines begins term as governor
By Channel NewsAsia's Philippines Correspondent Christine Ong

PAMPANGA, Philippines, Jul. 4, 2007 (  -  For the first time in Philippine politics, a Catholic priest has been elected into office.

Father Ed Panlilio won as governor in the province of Pampanga, which has earned the reputation of being the country's illegal gambling capital.

It is a historic day for the people of Pampanga as former Catholic priest Ed Panlilio took his oath as governor of the province.

Just four months ago, he was the parish priest of a church before he applied for a break from his priestly duties to run for office.

In a close race, Father Panlilio defeated two goliaths in local politics - former governor Mark Lapid who has been accused of profiting from illegal quarrying operations, and board member Lilia Pineda, wife of an alleged gambling lord.

"I thought, as a priest, I should not enter politics because that is mandated by church and civil laws. But we didn't have an alternative candidate, and the Pampanga situation called for an extraordinary response and intervention. So I thought, why don't we give it a try. With the prevalence of the ills in Pampanga, our society was undergoing a moral decaying process," said Pampanga Governor Panlilio.

Pampanga, the home province of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, is more known as the Philippines' illegal gambling capital.

Now, the governor is faced with the daunting tasks of fighting corruption and eradicating "jueteng", a popular illegal numbers game.

He admits it's an uphill battle.

"Illegal gambling like jueteng has deep cultural roots in our people and it is not that easy to remove it," said Governor Panlilio.

But judging from the crowd of supporters at his inauguration, it will not be impossible for him to pull off another miracle.

"We can consider it a miracle that the hearts of Pampanga residents were opened. Before, we did not care about politics and the elections," said Ron Torres, a Pampanga resident.

Such support is crucial for the new governor, in his crusade against the powerful "jueteng" lords in the province.

All eyes are now on the new governor as he tries to erase Pampanga's reputation of being the country's Vatican of "jueteng" or illegal gambling.

One thing's for sure though, he has already brought hope to Pampanga which has had a long history of patronage politics and corruption. - CNA /ls


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