ALBURQUERQUE, Bohol—Retired Bishop Margarito Gonzaga is not only the oldest living Filipino prelate at 93 years old, but holds the record as the only Catholic priest in the Philippines who was the first to run for public office and won and allowed to return to his priestly duties when confronted by his superior either to remain a priest or become a politician for good.
In an exclusive interview at his modest retirement house here some 12 kilometers east of the capital city of Tagbilaran, Msgr. Gonzaga said he did not vacillate when he opted to remain as man of God – a vow he made that once a priest “thou art a priest forever.”
Though retired, Msgr. Gonzaga says Mass regularly just like any other priest. In fact, he goes to neighboring parishes to say the Holy Mass.
In the ‘70s, Fr. Gonzaga, conscious of the separation between the Church and State, asked permission from his superior to run for public office as board member for the province of Bohol. His permission was granted.
He won and was re-elected twice and held that position for 12 straight years.
Msgr. Onesisimo Gordoncillo, then bishop of the Diocese of Tagbilaran, called then Fr. Gonzaga and threatened to defrock him from being a priest.
Gonzaga said he was made to choose to resign from the priest and continue being a politician.
Without hesitation “I chose to remain as a priest.”He did not regret. He was lucky. But today, priests who would throw their hat in politics are automatically defrocked.
Gonzaga continued serving the Lord and was assigned to various parishes until he became a bishop.
One of his legacies was the construction of the Holy Child Academy in Ubay, Bohol, some 125 kilometers east of Tagbilaran City.
Asked what is his secret of his longevity? Msgr. Gonzaga still alert and healthy, teasing pointed to his ears which are big and said, “This is my secret” and laughed.
His retirement house is just a stone’s throw away from the white beach of Sta. Fe in this town where there are thousands of coconut trees abound the wind is fresh all year round.
His motto in life is serve God foremost and the people next.
He prays the Holy Rosary everyday: Joyful Mystery, Sorrowful Mystery, Glorious Mystery and Mystery of Life as a devotee of Blessed Virgin Mary.
As a former employee of the government, Msgr. Gonzaga gets a monthly pension of P5,000 from the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), another P2,000 from the Social Security System, P2,000 from the Catholic Bishop of the Philippines (CBCP) and P12,000 as standard living allowance from the Diocese of Tagbilaran.
But he said a big chunk of his pension goes to the poor as many poor people visit him to beg.
For Msgr. Gonzaga, he may be retired but not tired serving God, the country and God’s people in his own godly way.