By ROGER M. BALANZA
Even as the election is seven months away in May 2022, a Catholic priest running for mayor in Mabini town in Davao de Oro may have already lost: the Catholic Church is vehemently against his bid to win an election, with the Church expected to campaign among Catholic voters to drop the controversial priest.
Fr. Emerson “Em-Em” Luego, parish priest of Sr. Sto. Niño Parish, filed on October 8 his Certificate of Candidacy (CoC) for mayor of Mabini municipality amid ugly specualtions over why the Cathollic priest would involve himself in local politics.
Fr. Em-em may not expect support from the Catholic vote: Catholics are aware that the Church is against priests dabbling in politics.
“Priests should be involved in politics but they should not be political. We are involved as priests and not as politicians. Ours is not to hold government power but to guide the people to live and choose the right leaders,” Novaliches Bishop Emeritus Teodoro Bacani Jr. said.
The retired Catholic prelate reminded church servants, including priests, who are running for public office that the Church law allows them to run only in “extreme cases” and under the guidance of their bishops.
Reports have it that Fr. Em-Em did not seek permission from the Church primarily because Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles, the former president of the Catholic Bishops‘ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), did not support his plan to enter politics in the 2022 election.
“Without the permission of his bishop, there are consequences for his performance as a priest,” Bacani said.
The bishop added that as a citizen, a priest has the right to lead but as a church servant, his involvement in politics is just to guide the electorate in choosing their leaders.
Fr. Em-em is widely known to stir up controversies in parishes where he was assigned.
Years ago, as the parish priest in Santo Tomas town in Davao del Norte, Fr. Em-Em reportedly acted as consolidator of dollar-earning export Cavendish bananas, illegally sold by small contract banana growers to unlicensed banana exporters, instead of to the banana plantation which financed their production operations.
The illegal scheme known as “pole vaulting” led to huge losses to members of the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA) operating in the Davao Region and triggered an investigation by the De[artment of Agriculture (DA) and other government agencies.
Even his running for Mabini mayor smacks of controvesry with shades of political treachery: Fr. Em-Em filed his bid at the instance and support of Davao de Oro Second District Rep. Peter Ruwel Peter Gonzaga, Davao Region chair of the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban).
In May this year, Gonzaga entered into a “covenant” with Davao de Oro Senior Board Member Arturo “Chiongkee” Uy (regional chair of the Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HnP), for a unified (PDP-Laban/HnP) slate in the 2022 election.
The unity pact involved Governor Jayvee Tyron Uy (HnP) and Gonzaga running unopposed in 2022; with the son of Chiongkee, after his third and last term, also unopposed in the 2nd District Congress run and Gonzaga for goveror, also unopposed, in the 2025 polls.
But in what is seen as open and blatant political treachery against the May covenant, Gonzaga’s PDP-Laban fielded a candidate against First District Rep. Maricar Zamora (HnP) and candidates against HnP in five municipalities including Mabini where Fr. Em-Em is running under the PDP-Laban banner.
The camp of Gonzaga according to reliable sources, including hints dished out by Gonzaga in media interviews, indicated that Gonzaga or his wife, Dorothy, would substitute in the last minute for former Diwalwal barangay captain Franco Tito (Reporma) who has filed his bid for governor, to run against Gov. Jayvee Tyron Uy.
The Catholic Church position against priests in politics is clearly stipulayed in Canon Law 285 that states that clerics are forbidden to assume public offices, which entail a participation in the exercise of civil power.
“Without the permission of their ordinary, they are not to take on the management of goods belonging to lay persons or secular offices which entail an obligation of rendering accounts. They are prohibited from giving surety even with their own goods without consultation with their proper ordinary. They also are to refrain from signing promissory notes, namely, those through which they assume an obligation to make payment on demand,” the Code of Canon Law states.
Report say that three priests are aspiring to be elected in the May 2022 polls — Fr. Granwell Pitapit of the Diocese of Libmanan, Camarines Sur, running as mayor; Fr. Emmanuel Alparce of the Diocese of Sorsogon, running as councilor in Bacacay, Albay; and Fr. Em-Em.
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