PCSO checking reports 7 bishops got Pajeros
The Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) is verifying reports that former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo used its funds to get the support of a number of bishops and divide the Catholic Church.
PCSO Chair Margarita Juico said Arroyo, now a Pampanga representative, had allegedly given six or seven Mitsubishi Pajeros to bishops a few months before she stepped down from office last year.
Juico said that she was told by some of the agency’s old-timers that these “donations” to the Church leaders had become standard practice since Arroyo faced a real threat of removal from office with the “Hello Garci” election cheating scandal six years ago.
“She moved to divide the bishops by getting some of them on her side to ensure that the CBCP (Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines) would not have a unified stand on her. But it’s hard to make these allegations without evidence or else I will be like (former PCSO Chair Manuel) Morato,” Juico said.
CBCP took no part
Sought for comment, Msgr. Pedro Quitorio, media director of the CBCP, said the Church hierarchy as a group did not avail itself of the supposed extravagant gifts from PCSO during Arroyo’s term.
“The CBCP as a body did not have any part in that… it also stands pat on its statement issued six years ago,” Quitorio said.
He referred to a pastoral statement issued through Davao Archbishop Fernando Capalla, then CBCP president, in January 2005, adopting a collective policy for bishops “to refrain from soliciting or receiving funds from illegal and legal gambling so as not to promote a culture of gambling.”
Caloocan Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez said Juico’s disclosure was a delicate matter. “This has to be validated before making a statement,” Iñiguez said when asked to comment.
Action, not whining
Instead of whining about the mistakes of the past administration, the Aquino administration must start taking steps against the alleged corruption committed by its predecessor, two bishops said.
The prelates on Monday gave their comments following a disclosure by PCSO officials that Arroyo and her allies had left the agency P4 billion in debt due to sham media contracts and fake medical claims.
“Knowledge about the evil should not end in knowing evil,” Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes said on Church-run Radyo Veritas on Monday.
“Instead, the [present administration] must find solutions to the problem or come up with concrete actions to punish the evil,” he added.
Iñiguez, head of the public affairs committee of the CBCP, echoed the same opinion over Radyo Veritas.
“We’ve already heard so many accusations like this. This is no longer new [so] it would be better, with this information or allegations, for the present government to look into it seriously and take the necessary actions,” Iñiguez said.
He said what the nation needed more from Mr. Aquino was his action on the allegations of corruption committed by the past administration and make those liable be punished.
Juico’s exposé was not meant to spite the previous administration, said a PCSO board member, pointing out that incumbent officers of the state gambling agency were merely implementing the findings of the Commission on Audit (COA).
“Usually when a new administration comes into office, it should first take a look at its financial statements,” said lawyer Ma. Aleta Tolentino. “The financial statements tell the real story, in the form of pesos, about the state of the office.”
Asked about the purpose of the exposé, seen by some as an act of vendetta against the former administration, Tolentino said: “If we find out there’s a basis for graft charges, we will file them.”
Tolentino, also the PCSO’s audit committee head, said the agency’s internal audit was under review because she was seeking to identify which of the items in the accounting books of the agency were valid or fictitious.
Since the audit was still ongoing, she said it was tough to categorically say who would be charged with wrongdoing.
What she learned from the verification was how the agency exceeded its operating funds for a couple of years.
“Some contracts got approved without a certificate proving availability of funds. This is very basic,” Tolentino said.
She said the person who approved this kind of spending could be charged under the antigraft and corrupt practices law.
Any indication of dereliction of duty or gross negligence could be a ground for corruption charges, Tolentino said.
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