MANILA, Philippines – Catholic lay groups led by former Manila Mayor Lito Atienza launched a signature drive and fund-raising campaign, on Tuesday, to support the bishops accused of receiving financial donations from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) during the Arroyo administration.
Atienza, a leader of a Catholic pro-life movement in the country, said they have been planning to seek donations from Catholics to raise the equivalent of the P8.258 million that the bishops received from the PCSO.
He said the money could either be returned to the PCSO, or given to the bishops for them to buy new vehicles for their parishioners if the cars they bought with money from the PCSO were surrendered to the government.
“We will coordinate with all Catholic organizations—churches, parishes, schools—that want to help like when we gathered one million signatures to convince Cory Aquino to run in 1985. We were able to do that because we helped each other,” Atienza.
Atienza, lawyer Romulo Macalintal, and the other lay leaders present at the launching at the Ilustrado Restaurant in Intramuros, Manila, gave their own donations—Atienza gave P1,000—and were able to raise a total of P116,250 less than an hour after they began. A businessman donated P100,000 on the spot.
Atienza said the Coalition for Family and Life—-which included Couples for Christ, pro-life groups, and parishes—would jump-start the signature and fund drive.
“I think we will be able to raise this P8 million quickly. This is voluntary…It is a small act compared to the big problem—because it is a nationwide, even international scandal—which is now hitting our beloved Mother Church,” Atienza said.
“The issue here is that they’re looking for the money so let’s give back the money to put an end to this,” he added.
Atienza said his group believed the seven bishops who received money from the PCSO did not violate “any law or ethical standard.”
He said that when the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines apologized on Monday, they were not admitting guilt, but apologizing to the faithful for the scandal in the church.
“The accusations against them are all fabricated, baseless and politically motivated to destroy the image and dignity of our Mother Church, our priests and our bishops,” said the group’s manifesto, which would be disseminated for signing by Catholic lay people.
“We, the undersigned concerned parishioners of our respective Catholic parishes, manifest our sincere and wholehearted support to our priests and bishops at this trying moment where the unity of each and every one of us is expected by our Mother Church,” it added.
Atienza said they would approach ordinary Catholics—and not celebrities like boxing champion and Saranggani Rep. Manny Pacquiao—to emphasize that the effort was from the grassroots.
“We can do this quickly. If 8,000 Catholics donate P1,000, we could have the P8 million. If 16,000 give P500 or 32,000 donate P250, we could also reach that amount,” Atienza said.
“There are those who are Catholic in name only and this is their chance to help the Church. We could come out of this with a stronger faith. This could be a form of evangelization,” he added.
Atienza also said that there was nothing wrong with government agencies working together with churches to help the poor.
“When I was mayor of Manila, we worked together with churches — Protestant and Catholic — to reach those in need. There’s nothing wrong there. I believe this is one of the most effective ways to reach out to the poorest of the city,” he said.