Two big lessons from Fr. Ed Panlilio’s victory
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2007-05-27
Father Ed Panlilio’s political victory is easily the top story of our latest electoral exercise. This gentle priest of no political background whatsoever became governor of the very same province of Madame Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo – Pampanga, a known vortex of old school dirty politics.

Father Panlilio’s victory is really a triumph of the electorate. In this instance, it was people’s faith in the power of good that brought power politics and its machinery down on its knees.

The tricky and crooked ways of national elections made it too difficult for Kapatiran candidates to win. But Father Ed had the advantage of a homogenous electorate – the Pampangueños. They created the miracle in Pampanga where even Madame Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s handpicked candidate had been humbled by a political novice supported only by a multi-sectoral citizens group.

Who will argue that this is not one of the Lord’s many ways of demonstrating that nothing exceeds the power that emanates from above? But whether or not this is ordained from above, no one can deny that Father Ed’s work as a man of God and a shepherd of souls made him the best choice of Pampanga voters as their leader.

From the very start, he presented a picture of hope and goodness in contrast to his rivals who carried a heavy baggage of perceived sins, having been linked to jueteng operations and illegal quarrying.

Lesson #1: Media played a key role

The good versus evil fight in Pampanga registered a dramatic impact because media took a keen interest on it and had covered it extensively. Few local fights ever generated the kind of coverage as the Pampanga gubernatorial contest did. Even columnists and commentators who are normally attuned to news about national issues and election contenders could not help but discuss the “Priest versus the Sinners” fight.

The media coverage of Father Ed’s fight was so extensive that it generated a lot of support even from people who have nothing to do with Pampanga politics. This proves that there are a lot of people out there who are willing to join worthy crusades if media would only do its job of informing people about inspiring stories and exemplary acts of faith and courage that abound.

Media has a lot to do with projecting candidates as winners or losers. The amount of coverage a candidate gets – without even taking into consideration if the exposure is positive or negative – already conditions people to perceive a candidate as a heavyweight or lightweight, winnable or not.

One of the sorriest moments of Philippine media was the role it played in dampening the candidacy of the late Raul S. Roco in 2004. Raul Roco was the best candidate for president in 2004 in terms of intelligence, track record and integrity.

In 2003, Raul Roco was the leading presidential candidate in the credible surveys. He was winnable but unfortunately media opted to promote the least qualified presidential candidate – Fernando Poe Jr. – instead of the best candidate.

When Fernando Poe Jr. (FPJ) joined the 2004 presidential derby, media coverage for Raul Roco’s candidacy dropped to a minimum. Roco hardly made the front pages anymore. The shift of media coverage alone suggested to voters that Raul Roco was no longer winnable. The only banner headlines on front page that Roco got after FPJ entered the presidential race was when his prostate cancer resurged – headlines that deflated rather than promoted his candidacy.

FPJ was getting media coverage not because he said something that deserved all that media attention but simply because he was FPJ, the movie celebrity.

Without even uttering something intelligent or proposing a great reform agenda, FPJ even got five front page stories in a leading daily (not the STAR!) in one issue. It’s as if the owners and top honchos of that paper were really in favor of awarding the country’s highest public office to a high school dropout.

Now comes the schizophrenic part – that same newspaper called Raul Roco the best president we never had after his death. Hello?! Truly, as a people, we like to do things that make it harder for our country to progress.

Lesson #2: Power of the pure cause

The great generals always placed a premium on morale, even going to such extent as to deliver speeches before a major battle in order to stir their troops on the righteousness of their cause. The 300 Spartans at Thermopylae and the defenders of The Alamo would not have fought so valiantly if they were not convinced of the righteousness of their cause.

Father Ed’s victory showcases the power of the pure cause. Unfortunately, this is a lesson that is lost on the Opposition. The Opposition could have generated better results in the recent elections had they opted to define themselves as independent from the two worst presidents after Marcos – Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Instead, they opted to go with what they saw as the lesser evil. The result is they got less than what they could have garnered.

Our greatest moment in history was the 1986 People Power Revolt. If one were to look at what we rallied behind during that saga – it was none other than a pure cause, the cause of freedom and democracy. Yet we seem not to have learned the lesson of that success.

Not surprising really because we never bothered to know our history. It’s bad enough if you do not learn the lessons of your mistakes. It’s worse if you don’t learn the lessons of your successes.

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