A priest seeks reelection
HE WAS twice discouraged by the archbishop of Cebu not to seek public office. But for Fr. Oscar Banzon, there is life in politics.
In 2013, he defied his superior’s plea and ran as barangay captain in Kawit, Medellin town, 115 kilometers north of Cebu City. He won.
Last month, Banzon filed his Certificate of Candidacy (CoC) to seek another term, saying five years was not enough for him to accomplish all his programs and plans for Barangay Kawit.
Msgr. Joseph Tan, media liaison officer of the Archdiocese of Cebu, said Banzon shall remain suspended as priest and is prohibited from celebrating Mass as well as administering the sacraments such as marriage, baptism and confession.
Under Canon 285-3 of the Catholic Church, “clerics are forbidden to assume public offices which entail a participation in the exercise of civil power.”
“We, priests, have our own mission and that is to establish God’s kingdom (on earth). He (Banzon) has to give up something. In this case, he gave up priesthood for whatever reason. And as provided by Church rules, he has to be suspended,” Tan told Cebu Daily News.
An official of the archdiocese, who requested anonymity for lack of authority to speak on the matter, said Banzon may be on his way out as priest.
Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma could not be reached for a statement on Saturday. But in 2013, Palma suspended Banzon for violating the Canon Law when the priest filed his CoC.
Palma was dismayed by the priest’s decision and was displeased when Banzon openly admitted that he was in a relationship with a councilwoman in Kawit.
“As a general rule, it would be better for any priest who commits scandal to leave the priesthood especially if what he’s doing is of public knowledge,” the archbishop said in an earlier interview.
No plans to resign
But Banzon, interviewed by phone, said he has no plans to abandon priesthood just yet.
Asked when will he return to the active ministry, Banzon said, “Mobalik ko basta dili nako maibog og babaye (I will go back to priesthood if I would no longer be attracted to women).”
The 56-year-old priest clarified that he already ended his relationship with the councilwoman whom she met when he was assigned as Kawit’s parish priest from 1995 to 2001.
“But duna koy kafling-fling karon. Wala lang mi nagpuyo (But I have a girlfriend right now although we don’t live together),” he said.
Banzon said he didn’t inform Palma about his decision to seek reelection because he knew the prelate will not support his move.
“Like before, I knew (the) bishop would disagree with me. He won’t like these things, and I fully understand his sentiments,” he said.
“On my part, even if I’m no longer active in the priestly ministry, I know I’m doing a better job in reaching out to people and helping them as a barangay captain. Though not sacramental, I’m still able to help them out,” he added.
Banzon was optimistic that the people in Kawit, Medellin, will reelect him on Monday.
“I’m confident that I’ll make it,” he said.
With 15 sitios and 4,717 registered voters, Kawit is the biggest village in the sugarcane-producing town of Medellin.
Banzon is going up against Charito Areglado whom he defeated by 79 votes in the 2013 barangay elections, and another Kawit resident, Frances Sucro.
He said he wants to continue developing Kawit by constructing a maternity clinic, a livelihood center for women, a covered court, and a rural health center for his constituents and people from neighboring barangays.
“I also want to instill in the minds of my constituents not to settle for less, not to be satisfied with just eating three times a day. They need to consider the future so that their children can go to school, and when they get sick, they have money to support their needs,” he said.
A priest still
Although his functions as priest have been suspended, Banzon said he continues to say Mass in private as well as hears confession and administers the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick in cases of emergency.
“When no priests are available, and there are people on the verge of death, I’ll perform the sacraments for them. That’s all I can do for now,” he said.
“But if someone will ask me to celebrate Mass (in public), then I may. My celebration is still effective. It’s valid although it’s illicit because I am suspended,” he added.
Fr. Jonas Mejares, OSA, a canon lawyer and one of the judges of the Archdiocesan Tribunal, said there’s nothing wrong about wanting to serve people.
But he stressed that Banzon must only choose one path.
“You can’t serve two masters at the same time. You have to choose only one,” said Mejares, echoing a passage from the scripture.
Asked what legacy he wants to leave, Banzon said “I want to be remembered by the people first and foremost as a priest — someone who sacrificed the priesthood in order to answer the realities of our times and help people.”
Banzon said there were “realities of our times” that he could not address and there were people he could not help as an active priest but he could do as a barangay captain.
Ordained in 1991, Banzon was first assigned in Barangay Kawit from 1995 to 2001. He served in the parish of Casuntingan, Mandaue City in 2003, before he became the parish priest of the San Nicolas Parish in Cebu City.
Banzon stayed in San Diego, California for three years and returned in 2011 when Palma had just assumed as Cebu’s chief shepherd.
Priests seeking public office is not new in the Philippines.
In 2007, Fr. Ed Panlilio, a Kapampangan priest, was elected governor of Pampanga on a campaign of anti-corruption. He too was suspended from his priestly duties upon announcing his bid to seek a post in government.
Panlilio was unseated in 2010 by the Commission on Elections, which proclaimed Lilia Pineda the winner after a recount of votes. In May 2013, he ran again and lost.
In 2012, Fr. Leo Casas ran for governor in Masbate but was defeated by a huge margin.
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