Priest’s election opens new controversy in Medellin town, Cebu Archdiocese
“Kalooy sa Diyos (God is merciful),” he told Cebu Daily News last night after the poll results were announced.
Banzon, a former parish priest of Kawit, with an open relationship with a female councilor there, ran with partymates as “Team Padre.”
His election gives Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma the painful task for dealing again with a diocesan priest who had twice rejected his appeal not to seek political office.
The 55-year-old Banzon was suspended by the archbishop a week before the barangay election for violating canon law.
Banzon’s “priestly faculties” were withdrawn, meaning he was prohibited from celebrating Mass or administering sacraments such as marriage, baptism, and confession.
Banzon defeated the incumbent Charito Areglado with a vote of 1,200 versus 1,121. Areglado was Kawit’s no. 1 councilor who had served only four months after replacing the barangay captain who ran for a municipal council post in May.
“The election was peaceful but it was very close. At the start, I was already confident I would win,” he said.
Banzon said he plans to meet with Archbishop Jose Palma “as soon as possible.”
“It has always been my wish to report to Palma so for sure, I will meet with him,” he said.
Barangay Kawit with 15 sitios and more than 3,200 voters is the biggest barangay in the sugarcane-producing town of Medellin.
Asked about plans for his first 100 days in office, Banzon said he would continue developing Kawit as the “center of trade and commerce” in the north and pursue stricter enforcement against illegal fishing.
CDN interviewed Banzon in the gazebo of the residence of a female Kawit barangay councilor he confirmed he had a “relationship” with.
At first, he was wary of being interviewed, saying he was being “attacked” by radio commentators for his election bid.
He and councilwoman Venus Atienza, who is single, met when he was assigned as Kawit’s parish priest from 1995 to 2001.
“I am in a relationship but it’s not affecting me. Instead it’s been more of a help,” he said.
“Now I don’t just think of myself and I’ve become more understanding and much more patient than before.”
The 42-year-old woman, who used to be an ally of Medellin Mayor Ricardo Ramirez , did not seek reelection yesterday. The priest said he stays in her house, a seaside bungalow, from time to time especially during the election campaign period.
Banzon spoke of his strained relations with Medellin Mayor Ricky Ramirez, whom he said had a “tendency to dictate affairs of the barangay.”
He said the mayor didn’t want a challenger to run against the incumbent barangay captain.
“Ang ni-ignite sa ako desire nga mudagan kay akong mayor gyud, si Mayor Ricky Ramirez. Kay murag atubangan pirmi mi amigo, kung magkita amigo, pero iya man kong dauton kung nagtalikod na. Wa ko kahibaw unsa’y naa nako nga masuko siya nako.”
(What ignited my desire to run for office was the mayor. In front of me, we are friends but when I turn my back, he attacks me. I don’t know why he’s always mad at me,” the priest told Cebu Daily News.
Banzon said he wanted to help the community.
“I can even serve better as a priest compared to being a barangay captain but I’m tired of this system already,” he added.
Mayor Martinez, in a separate interview, had harsh words for the priest, whom he described as a “former friend and political supporter.”
The mayor said he helped Banzon get elected as president of the barangay’s water system federation.
“If he’s saying that he ran just because of that (“a tendency to dictate”), then I can say that I’ve already encountered a priest who lies. He is a liar,” said the mayor.
“Why is he even running when there is no tyranny here. It’s not an environment that calls for a priest to run for public office like the case of Fr. Ed Panlilio in Pampanga. Banzon’s not even from this place,” said a visibly irked mayor.
The mayor said the priest’s conduct had “destroyed a lot of relationships” especially the mayor’s “close ties” with the woman’s family.
He accused Banzon of being a regular attendee in cockfights, card games and drinking sprees with friends in the local neighborhood.
“On that point alone, the people in Kawit were already scandalized and members of the church have been scandalized by this immoral act,” he said.
“He’s putting the spotlight on himself and his affairs because once you run for public office, you let people look into your private life,” he added.
Banzon filed his Certificate of Candidacy last Oct. 16 and listed “Padre” (Father) as his nickname.
Ordained in 1991, the priest was first assigned in barangay Kawit from 1995 to 2001. He later served in the parish of Casuntingan, Mandaue in 2003 and then San Nicolas parish in Cebu City.
Church sources described Banzon as being on “floating status” while looking for a parish to serve in the United States.
Yesterday, Banzon said he was in San Diego, California for three years and returned in 2011, when Archbishop Palma had just assumed as the new prelate. He said he was just waiting for an assignment.
Then the decision to run for barangay captain came and then the suspension.
Banzon said he accepted the suspension with a “heavy heart” but vowed to remain a “priest for the rest of my life.”
Banzon said he was thankful Archbishop Palma still acted “fatherly” in the suspension order by still acknowledging him as a priest.
“I would like to die as a priest, an active priest not just a suspended priest,” he said.
Earlier in the afternoon, Banzon talked about both outcomes of victory and defeat.
“My plan if I win is to change how our barangay is run. They tell me that I don’t deserve to win because I left God, much more with the people. But I replied to critics that I am moving even closer to the Lord because God is not just in one place but is in each and every one of us.”
Asked about his plans if he lost the election, Banzon talked of trying to regain his good standing with the Cebu Archdiocese.
“I will accept defeat because I have a high regard for sportsmanship. I have to undergo a long process, I just cannot go back (to the church) automatically. It will take years but I am very willing to undergo that process,” he said, “wherein my superior will tell me what to do.”
“I will just cross the bridge when I get there.”
With last night’s polls results, Father Banzon has crossed his bridge.