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Panlilio ousted as Pampanga governor; who’s next in line?


(Update 2 - Feb. 12, 3:30 a.m.) Pampanga Governor Ed Panlilio joined the growing list of Liberal Party (LP) local executives to be unseated as the Commission on Elections Second Division on Thursday ordered him to vacate the gubernatorial post, in favor of former provincial board member Lilia Pineda. The decision came a day after the poll body likewise declared that Bulacan Gov. Joselito Mendoza, also of LP, lost the recount to former Agrarian Reform Secretary Roberto Pagdanganan. (See: Pagdanganan-Mendoza standoff grips Bulacan) In December last year, the Comelec also declared null and void the term of LP’s incumbent Isabela Governor Grace Padaca in favor of former governor Benjamin Dy, who contested the results of the 2007 elections. (See: Comelec unseats Padaca as governor of Isabela)
On Wednesday, the Comelec First Division also disqualified still another LP bet, Abraham Kahlil Mitra, as a gubernatorial candidate in Palawan in the upcoming polls. The LP earlier accused the Arroyo administration of “vendetta politics" against the three governors, which the Comelec has denied. (See: LP, allies hit Arroyo gov’t for ‘vendetta politics’ vs 3 governors) Mendoza was unseated after his Partido del Pilar coalesced with the LP for the 2010 polls. Both Padaca and Panlilio have meanwhile sworn support for LP standard bearer Sen. Benigno Simeon “Noynoy" Aquino III in the May elections. But Ferrer had insisted that the recount cases against the three governors had been filed even before they joined LP, whose presidential and vice president bets Aquino and Manuel Roxas II have been leading the surveys. He added that if there are those who are not satisfied with their decision, they can always appeal to the Comelec en banc – which both Mendoza and Padaca have already done.

‘Sufficient merit’ “We find sufficient merit in this protest case… we hereby resolve Lilia Pineda is the duly recognized governor of Pampanga," the poll body said. Pineda lost to Panlilio in 2007 by a margin of 1,147 votes and accused the winning politician-priest of cheating and initiated recount proceedings against him with the Comelec. In its ruling, the second division said Pineda got 190,729 votes while Panlilio got 188,718 votes, a margin of 2,011. But Commissioner Lucenito Tagle, in his concurring opinion, said that Pineda won by only 356 votes. Panlilio was therefore been ordered to vacate the post and allow Pineda to assume the gubernatorial post. Pineda is the wife of businessman Rodolfo “Bong" Pineda, a well-known financier and staunch ally of President Arroyo. Expected Panlilio’s camp was not surprised with the decision. His lawyer, Sixto Brillantes, had even said in the past that he was not confident that the Comelec would rule in favor of his client. Panlilio, who was present during the promulgation, accused the Comelec of denying their motions and requests since October.
CASH GIFTS
Panlilio and the wads of cash. In this October 2007 photo, Panlilio shows the P500,000 given to him in a meeting between President Arroyo and governors at the Palace. Charlie Magno
Priest-turned Pampanga Governor Ed Panlilio first made headlines in 2007 after claiming that local government officials received bags of cash during a meeting with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo at the Malacañang Palace. A Palace aide dressed in Barong Tagalog handed him a brown paper bag containing P500,000, Panlilio said. His revelation raised suspicions that Mrs. Arroyo was bribing local officials in exchange for support since she was facing an impeachment complaint at that time. At a press conference held at the height of the controversy, Panlilio asked Malacañang the purpose of the cash gift so that the provincial government could issue an official receipt for the so-called donation. “I believe I will have to clarify first where the money is supposed to be used. It’s better that I spoke of this thing as it happened, than be bothered by my conscience," Panlilio said. Similarly, Bulacan Gov. Jon-jon Mendoza later came out in the open, claiming that he also received a P500,000 cash gift in the same meeting. [Mendoza is currently embroiled in election protest filed by rival Robert Pagdanganan. In February 2009, the Comelec ruled that Pagdanganan won. The poll body said it would still study the decision next week.] Panlilio and Mendoza reportedly turned over the money to their provincial treasurers. Weeks later, the League of Provinces of the Philippines admitted being the source of the cash gifts. It said the money distributed were to be used for LPP’s “capacity-building program." The controversy reached fever pitch when Mindoro Occidental Rep. Amelita Villarosa, secretary of President Arroyo’s Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (Kampi), admitted that the party also gave cash gifts to two congressmen. Villarosa, who said Mrs. Arroyo had no knowledge of the pay-offs, explained that the funds were part of the help extended by Kampi to its allies. The opposition criticized why it took administration allies so long to admit they were the sources of the money. Critics also said the cash handouts was the Arroyo administration’s indirect bribery to save the President from an impeachment complaint over the allegedly overpriced $329-million broadband deal with China’s ZTE Corp. (more popularly known as the NBN-ZTE deal). “President Arroyo is the head of Kampi, it's impossible that she doesn't know that its officials are distributing large amounts of cash to various lawmakers, and this constitutes bribery," said the late Anakpawis party-list Rep. Crispin Beltran. Malacañang, while not admitting it was the source of the cash, stressed there was nothing anomalous with the pay-offs. “There is nothing wrong with receiving a donation, provided it is put to good use," former Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said. - Sophia R. Dedace, GMANews.TV
"Gusto lang naman namin ipairal ang karapatan namin na magkaroon ng mas masusing pag-revision sa mga balota (We just wanted to exercise our right to have a thorough revision of the ballots)," he told reporters. He added that they were not allowed to see the basis for the results of the findings of the poll body. "Itong mga nangyari na ito has been leading us to think that we will not get fair treatment of this case (These events have been leading us to think that we will not get fair treatment of this case)," he said. Pineda’s lawyer George Erwin Gonzales, however, said there has been no irregularity in the Comelec resolution. “Everything is orderly. Everything is in accordance with the rules. Ee have a very legitimate case," Garcia said. The Comelec gave Panlilio five days to file a motion for reconsideration before the case is elevated to to the Comelec en banc. Brillantes said that they will definitely file the motion, but added that the poll body en banc must also make sure to read the 11,000-page resolution of the second division. Earlier in the promulgation, his request for the poll body to read the resolution in its entirety was rejected given the decision’s sheer volume. "Basahin naman nila yung decision ng division para alam nila ano ang tama at ano ang mali (They should read the decision of the division so that they will know what's right from what's wrong)," he said. If they don't, he said that the commission will be "rendering an unjust judgment against the governor." "I hope they will be able to finish this by May 2010," he said. Pineda's legal counsel George Erwin Garcia, on the other hand, said they would file a motion for execution pending a motion for reconsideration after they have likewise read the 11,000-page decision. Confident Panlilio said that he is confident that if the matter reaches the SC, the high tribunal would overturn the decision. "Ganun ang paniniwala namin ever since, kami ang panalo by a slim margin (We have always believed that we are the winners, although be a slim margin)," he said. He denied Pineda's accusations that he committed fraud in the 2007 elections. "Ang isang pari ay walang kakayahan na mang-harass. Ang isang kandidatong walang partido noong 2007 at walang makinarya ay walang kakayahang mandaya at mamili ng boto (A priest does not have the capability to harass. A candidate without a party and without machinery does not have the capability to cheat and buy votes)," he said. The priest-turned-politician even said that if there was someone capable of such acts, it was the former provincial board member. "Itong mga bagay na ito ay hindi ko naman ginawa, sa katunayan nga sila ang gumawa nito noong panahon ng kampanya (I did not do these things, in truth it's the camp of Pineda that committed these acts during the campaign period)," he said. Pineda is happy For her part, Pineda said in an interview over GMA Network's News On Q that she is “happy" with the poll body’s decision. “Masaya ako dahil sa tagal ng panahon mula nang nai-file ko ang aking recount, at least kahit malapit na ang eleksyon, lumabas na rin ang resolusyon ng Comelec (I am happy because given that a long time has already passed since I filed for a recount and even as elections are nearing, the Comelec still arrived at a resolution)," she said. Pineda maintained, however, that she will not insist on immediately assuming the gubernatorial post, even as she admitted that there’s not much left for her to do in the remaining four months of the governor’s term. “Sa umpisa pa lang, inilagay ko sa tamang proseso. Maghihintay naman ako doon sa talagang tama na alam kong hindi naman maaagrabiyado ‘yung katapat ko (From the very start, I wanted this to proceed in the right process. I will wait for the right time so that I don’t violate the rights of my rival," she said, constantly referring to Panlilio as the “governor." Pineda likewise said even if she gets to assume her post, the coming elections prevent her from implementing programs for the province. “Halos wala na ring magagawa dahil may Comelec ban na yan. Kapag start na ng campaign, incumbent ka, hindi ka na talagang pwedeng magwithdraw o gumalaw ng pera ng kapitolyo (You can do almost nothing because the Comelec ban is already in effect. If the campaign period has already started and you’re the incumbent, you really can’t use the funds of the capitol for your projects)," she explained. Come May polls, Panlilio and Pineda are set yet again for a face-off for the gubernatorial post. - RJAB Jr./KBK/JMA/JV, GMANews.TV
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