Pimentel: Don’t blame bishops but PCSO execs
Officials of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), not bishops, must be sanctioned for granting some leaders of the Catholic Church with sport utility vehicles (SUVs) during the Arroyo administration, two lawyers on Tuesday said.
Former Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said that if the act of giving donations to the Church and other institutions was illegal, the giver must be held liable, not the receiver.
“The Pajeros came from the government officials; therefore, they should be sanctioned and not the bishops who accepted the donations,” Pimentel, a lawyer, said at a forum hosted by the Catholic Media Network (CMN) in Intramuros, Manila.
But a lawmaker said the bishops who received the vehicles or cash gifts from the PCSO were criminally liable.
“Any bishop who uses a motor vehicle or cash obtained from PCSO for noncharitable purposes is criminally liable under the PCSO charter,” said House Minority Leader Edcel Lagman.
Today (Wednesday), the Senate blue ribbon committee opens its inquiry into allegations by PCSO officials that bishops were given SUVs, while lawmakers were lavished with endowments out of their charity funds.
The inquiry will focus on the possible violations of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
Lawyer Romulo Macalintal said at the CMN forum that the bishops did not violate any law when they accepted grants from the government’s main charity arm.
“No bishop, priest or clergymen who received donations from the PCSO would be charged with or convicted of any offense because there’s no law saying that what they did was a criminal act,” said Macalintal, a former election lawyer of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
The new PCSO management under Margarita Juico last week identified six Catholic bishops and an organization that received SUVs and cash amounting to P8.3 million in the last three years of the Arroyo administration.
Macalintal pointed out that if the mandate of the PCSO prevented it from giving donations to the Church and other groups, officials of the agency should be held liable for the wrongdoing.
He said that since the provision of cash donations and cars were covered by pertinent documents, including written requests, the bishops could not be accused of “pocketing” such grants.
But Lagman said the Catholic Church was way too rich to be a charity case.
“(I)t has more than sufficient resources to finance its charitable work without competing with countless indigent patients and legitimate charity beneficiaries,” said the lawmaker, the lead advocate in the House of Representatives of the reproductive health bill.
Lagman said the act was not only “morally offensive” but also violated the doctrine of separation of Church and State, which prohibited the appropriation or use of public money or property for the benefit of any religion or clergy.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile assured the bishops that they would not be prematurely judged.
“We will give them the benefit of the doubt. I don’t think that we should be cynical and suspicious about the conduct of religious people. Let us try to be objective about it and preserve our institutions. Otherwise, we will break up as a society,” Enrile told reporters.
For Wednesday’s hearing, the blue ribbon committee has invited the PCSO board, led by Juico, and Commission on Audit Chair Ma. Gracia Pulido-Tan.
Enrile said it would be rash to accuse the bishops of wrongdoing, saying they’re not politicians or businessmen.
The prudent thing to do, he said, was to hear out the bishops’ explanation of whether they accepted SUVs or cash, and for what purpose.
Senate Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano said the executive department should conduct a parallel investigation of the matter through a fact-finding committee to ensure an organized investigation.
Besides giving bishops SUVs, the PCSO distributed endowments and ambulances to lawmakers and governors during the second half of the Arroyo administration.
Negros Oriental Rep. George Arnaiz said he would ask the PCSO to clarify its statement naming him as one of the beneficiaries of PCSO funds.
Arnaiz said the PCSO statement that he received P11.5 million between 2007 and 2010 would lead many people to believe that all that money went to him.
“I did not get a single centavo of that money. All these funds were spent on Negrenses seeking medical help,” he said.
Negros Oriental Rep. Jocelyn S. Limkaichong said she did not receive an ambulance from the PCSO during the Arroyo administration. It was only under the administration of President Aquino that she got two ambulances for her district.
In Iloilo City, Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo said the PCSO policy requiring recipients to shoulder 40 percent of the cost of the ambulance should be implemented with uniformity and without exemptions. With reports from Gil C. Cabacungan Jr. in Manila; Alex Pal, Florence Baesa and Nestor P. Burgos Jr., Inquirer Visayas
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