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Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos asked Gloria Arroyo for a car as b’day gift

/ 02:30 AM July 06, 2011

BIRTHDAY GIFT. In a letter in February 2009 to then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Bishop Pueblos requested for a brand-new car. In it, he said, “…possibly a 4 x 4, which I can use to reach the far-flung areas of Caraga. I hope you will never fail to give a brand new car which would serve as your birthday gift to me.” On March 8 of the same year was his 66th birthday. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

A Catholic bishop who had asked President Benigno Aquino III to resign, supposedly received illegal donations from the previous management of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) and also requested a vehicle as a “birthday gift” from then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Lawyer Aleta Tolentino, a PCSO director, provided the Inquirer with a copy of the February 2009 letter of Butuan Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos to Arroyo, which was coursed through then PCSO director Maria Fatima Valdez.

Attached to the letter was a March 9, 2009, memorandum transmittal from “The President” to “The Chairman” of the PCSO, with the note “for appropriate action, please.”

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“This document (Pueblos’ letter) really shocked us. It pains us to divulge it but this will be included in the investigation,” she said.

Bishop’s letter

Pueblos’ letter to Arroyo reads:

“I will be celebrating my 66th birthday on March 8, 2009. I know this will be a precious day and timely occasion to thank the Lord for giving me another year … After a prayerful discernment and due considerations to the existing crisis phenomenon today, I have decided not to hold a birthday party. Instead, I prefer to make use of my birthday as a day with and for myself, and with God.

“Having (been) declared, awarded and honored from your good office as ‘Peace Champion of Caraga,’ I am grateful to God that He has made me an instrument of His peace, especially here in Mindanao. I know I can do more to promote and work for peace.

“It is in this view that I am asking a favor from your Excellency. At present, I really need a brand-new car, possibly a 4 x 4, which I can use to reach the far-flung areas of Caraga. I hope you will never fail to give a brand new car which would serve as your birthday gift to me. For your information, I have with me a 7-year-old car which is not anymore in good running condition. Therefore, this needs to be replaced very soon.

Pueblos’ call for Aquino to quit

“I am anticipating your favorable response on this regard. Thank you very much. Be assured of my constant support and sincerest prayers to your Excellency.”

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Last month, Pueblos called on President Aquino to resign over alleged irregularities committed by his party mates, classmates and shooting buddies.

Pueblos’ diocese was one of the six Catholic dioceses and one organization that received sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and cash donations amounting to P8.3 million from the PCSO during the Arroyo administration.

Besides the Diocese of Butuan, the recipients of the illegal donations for the purchase of 4 x 4 vehicles were the Zamboanga Archdiocesan Social Action Apostolate, Archdiocese of Cotabato, Diocese of Bangued (Abra), Prelature of Isabela (Basilan) and Apostolic Vicariate of Bontoc and Caritas Nueva Segovia, which covers Ilocos Sur, received financial assistance.

Using name of poor

Tolentino wondered whether the vehicle Pueblos had requested was for the poor. “This (letter) is a camouflage of using the name of the poor for self-interest,” she said.

The Senate blue ribbon committee is scheduled to start today (Wednesday) its inquiry into reports that the PCSO during the Arroyo administration gave several bishops SUVs and lavished certain lawmakers with endowments for their constituents’ hospital and medical expenses.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Sunday said the Constitution barred the donation of public money for the benefit of any religious group.

Tolentino said the exposés by the new PCSO management was not meant to attack the Church.

“We are not against the Church. We are just denouncing what happened in the past—corruption of government funds, which is prohibited by the Constitution itself,” she said.

“Would the bishops rather that we keep mum or we lie about it? Would they want us to just keep quiet about this?” Tolentino asked.

She earlier confirmed that the former PCSO management, in a series of board resolutions in 2009, approved the grant of SUVs to various dioceses.

2 vehicles for Butuan

Based on the resolutions, the former board approved the grant of two vehicles to the Diocese of Butuan, Tolentino said.

Although there were two board resolutions for the grant of two vehicles to the Diocese of Butuan, Tolentino said the PCSO only found one check—a Landbank check dated July 2, 2009 amounting to P1,704,147.90—that was issued to the diocese, care of Pueblos.

“That was for 2009. We don’t know yet if there was another (check issued) in 2010. We’re now trying to initiate a verification of the 2010 disbursements,” Tolentino said.

She said Pueblos’ letter to Arroyo was submitted to the Office of the President by the charity agency’s special projects department, which handles and processes “special requests.”

COA instruction

“As instructed by the Commission on Audit (COA) report, we have to check if there was indeed a violation in the disbursement of the charity fund for the purchase of SUVs of some prelates. We’re checking on supporting documents since the bishops were claiming that it’s for the poor,” Tolentino said.

She said the COA commented that the grant of the vehicles violated the constitutional provision that “no public money or property shall be appropriated, applied or employed directly or indirectly, for the use of, benefit or support to any sect, church, denomination, except when such priest, preacher or dignitary is assigned to the Armed Forces or to any penal institution, or government orphanage or leprosarium.”

Tolentino said that based on the principle of separation of Church and State, the former “should not be getting funds from the government, in the same way that the government should not also be getting money from the Church.”

Different story

She noted that if someone said he was requesting a vehicle so he could go to the poor, the poor in this case were just incidental.

“If someone said, ‘provide us with medicine,’ that’s a different story. That’s OK because the Church in this case is just incidental. The main purpose here is to give the medicine to the poor,” Tolentino said.

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TAGS: birthday gift, brand-new car, Butuan Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos, Caraga, Catholic bishop, Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, lawyer Aleta Tolentino, Mitsubishi Pajero, PCSO director, Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, Senate blue ribbon committee
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