Abra bishop admits receiving PCSO money

‘It was a charitable assistance,’ says prelate

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MANILA, Philippines—Bishop Leopoldo Jaucian of Bangued, Abra, cried foul Saturday over allegations that he and other Catholic bishops had benefited from illegal donations from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.

Jaucian admitted that his diocese received P1.129 million from the state gambling agency on January 16, 2009, as revealed in a series of exposés made by the new PCSO leadership installed by President Benigno Aquino.

But he flatly denied PCSO chair Margarita Juico’s claim that the donation was part of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s  effort to buy some bishops’ support amid demands for her resignation.

“It was an honest-to-goodness assistance for the Diocese of Abra,” he told the Inquirer in a phone interview. “It was a charitable assistance.”

Jaucian pointed out that the donation came in January 2009 or more than three years after the “Hello Garci” scandal erupted.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines had refused to join calls for her resignation, but came out with strongly worded pastoral statements condemning corruption and human rights violations under her government.

As late as 2008, the CBCP issued a pastoral statement demanding closure to allegations that Arroyo had manipulated the results of the 2004 presidential election. It echoed the group’s statement in 2006 wherein bishops also urged Arroyo to  pursue the truth behind the scandal.

In both cases, the bishops emphasized the rule of law and the need for institutions, such as the Commission on Elections, to perform their functions in such pursuit.

Jaucian said the monetary assistance was offered to his diocese for the purchase of a vehicle so he and other church workers could reach more of their flock, especially in light of the rough terrain of the province.

“We never solicited for anything,” he said.

Jaucian said the PCSO offer called for the diocese to “canvass” for a vehicle that would be useful for the ministry. He said diocesan employees came up with a list of possible purchases and picked the “cheapest,” a Mitsubishi Strada pickup.

“I never used the pickup as a personal service, definitely not,” he said. “It’s being used to deliver goods especially to people in faraway villages in Abra.”

Jaucian said the PCSO allegations would be tackled in the CBCP’s plenary assembly, beginning next week. The affair will begin with a retreat in Tagaytay City from Monday to Thursday. The bishops will then proceed to the Pope Pius XII Catholic Center in Manila for the rest of the assembly.

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