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Philippine priests defy bishops, run for public office

All risk being defrocked for flouting ban on standing in elections

Richel Umel and Ryan Rosauro, Iligan City

Richel Umel and Ryan Rosauro, Iligan City

Published: October 29, 2015 04:28 AM GMT

Updated: October 28, 2015 06:50 PM GMT

Philippine priests defy bishops, run for public office

Father Jeemar Lucero Vera Cruz, left, removes his cassock after announcing his decision to run for public office during a Mass. He filed his certificate of candidacy for vice mayor of Iligan City on Oct. 15. (Photo by Richel Umel)

At least three Catholic priests will defy a warning from Filipino bishops for members of the clergy not to run for public office in national elections next year.

All face being defrocked if they stand in the elections, but they say they can better serve the people by becoming politicians.

Father Jeemar Lucero Vera Cruz, vicar general of Iligan Diocese, is seeking to become vice mayor of the city in northern Mindanao.

"I will be leaving my role as a priest, temporarily, in response to God's calling to help the constituents of Iligan City," the priest said on Oct. 27.

He said there is a need to transform the city after the arrest of the city's mayor, who is facing charges of conspiring in the attempted murder of a congressman.

Vera Cruz has come under fire from critics who accuse the priest of using the pulpit for his political ambition, a charge the priest denies.

"I do not use the church or the pulpit for my political aspirations," he said.

"This is about justice, and standing up for and hearing the cry of the poor," Vera Cruz told ucanews.com.

He said he is running for office to help families still suffering after falling victim to the devastation brought by Typhoon Washi, which struck the southern Philippines in 2011.

Almost four years after the tragedy, the housing needs of hundreds of families are still unmet despite millions of pesos of funding pouring into the city, the priest said.

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"The poor have lost so much. We must help them rebuild their lives," Vera Cruz said. This "requires a measure of justice, charity and fairness," he added.

In Catarman Diocese in the central Philippines, Father Walter Cerbito has announced his candidacy for governor of Northern Samar province.

"Now is the time for Northern Samar to rise, for someone to stand up for real change," said Cerbito.

Retired priest Jack Sasu, from the same diocese, also filed his candidacy to become a councilor in the provincial capital, Catarman.

All risk being defrocked after the country’s bishops warned members of the clergy not to run for elective posts.

"Priests should serve the church. There is a way of serving the people as a priest," said Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales, retired archbishop of Manila.

Bishop Honesto Ongtioco of Cubao said the rule prohibiting priests becoming politicians is clear.

"There is a clear rule that they are not to enter politics because the church is nonpartisan in its mission," the prelate said.

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