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Pajero bishops mum; some solons also got PCSO funds

Keeping mum was the response of several bishops to a call for them to confess that they were gifted with Mitsubishi Pajeros from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) during the Arroyo administration.

Those who have issued denials were bishops who did not get a vehicle from the charity agency.

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Senator Panfilo Lacson on Wednesday said he and Senator Teofisto Guingona III had obtained documents showing that four bishops and several congressmen benefited from PCSO funds.

Lacson said the documents showed that the bishops received Pajeros while the congressmen got allocations from the charity agency.

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Lacson declined to name the bishops and the lawmakers, who he said were allied with then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, now a Pampanga representative, until the documents were certified by the PCSO and the Commission on Audit (COA).

Documents on anomalies

“We have in our possession documents showing several anomalous transactions involving PCSO and some personalities who were not supposed to be recipients of PCSO funds,” Lacson told reporters, referring to PCSO board resolutions.

“For instance there were three or four bishops who received Pajeros or whatever,” he said. “One lone district for example managed to receive (P55 million) and the date of the board resolution covered the election period.”

The Inquirer got the names of five bishops who each received a Pajero from a source in the Church, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The new PCSO management said it was verifying reports that Arroyo, who faced several impeachment charges, had used its funds to enlist the support of bishops by giving them vehicles.

Vehicles worth P6.9 M

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The COA on Wednesday confirmed that the PCSO purchased five vehicles worth P6.94 million that were “granted to Catholic Church archdioceses.”

The audit agency said this was a violation of the Constitution, which states that no public funds should be appropriated for the benefit of any church, sect or denomination.

In a 2009 report on the PCSO that it released on Wednesday, the COA, however, did not identify the recipients of the vehicles, or the kind of cars that were bought.

Senate probe

Lacson said the blue ribbon committee, chaired by Guingona, was set to open its inquiry into the PCSO anomalies on Wednesday next week.

“We agreed that it should be no-holds barred. Whatever comes up will not be covered up. All issues involving graft, corruption, malfeasance should be included in the investigation,” he said.

Aniceto’s Innova

In the City of San Fernando, Pampanga province, Archbishop Paciano Aniceto said his service vehicle, a Toyota Innova, was provided by the archdiocese and did not come from government or any other charitable institution.

Aniceto declined to give his opinion on bishops who received vehicles from Arroyo using PCSO funds. He, however, said the acceptance of any government or nongovernment aid in a diocese depended on the discretion of the bishop.

“The bishop knows the current and urgent pastoral priorities in his diocese, for instance, the promotion of social action. The bishop is the conduit through which the aid is channeled to serve the needs of the poor communities,” he said.

Priest disappointed

In Pangasinan province, a priest in the Lingayen-Dagupan archdiocese expressed disappointment over the decision of some bishops to accept vehicles from the PCSO, saying there is a very thin line between their motive in accepting the vehicles and the motive of the giver.

“[They may say] that they accepted the high-end vehicles not for their own use but for the use of the diocese to carry out their apostolic work, but the giver may have another purpose—to buy their silence and cooperation,” said Fr. Oliver Mendoza, parish priest of San Fabian town.

He called on the bishops to “come out and state their reasons for accepting the vehicles to clarify things.”

The Inquirer tried to reach Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas for comment but was told that he left for the United States on Wednesday.

Ilagan (Isabela) Bishop Joseph Nacua said he did not know anything about the vehicle donation from PCSO. He said no bishop in Cagayan Valley received a Mitsubishi Pajero from Arroyo.

Dosado not a recipient

In Ozamiz City, two priests and a lay leader denied an Inquirer report that the Archdiocese of Ozamiz, through Archbishop Jesus Dosado, received a Pajero from the PCSO during the Arroyo administration.

Fr. Marvin Osmeña, administrator of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral and custodian of church properties, said Dosado was not a recipient of the bounties from Arroyo.

On Thurday, the Inquirer reported that Dosado had a gray Pajero which is often used by Catholic-owned radio DxDD.

But Fr. Edgar Canama, DxDD station manager, belied the claim.

“(Ever) since, DxDD stations (AM and FM) have not used a Pajero from the bishop in all our operations,” said Canama.

Lay leader Wendell Talibong, DxDD-AM production chief, said serious allegations such as that hurled against the Ozamiz archdiocese “must be backed by proof, evidence and credible source.”

Canama and Osmeña pointed out that the local church in Ozamiz “does not condone bribery and corruption.”

Talibong also said “airing PCSO ads is tantamount to promoting the culture of gambling which is against the official teaching of the Catholic Church.”

Given the sensitivity of the matter, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) should look into charges that bishops were bribed by Arroyo and sanction them if necessary, Sen. Gregorio Honasan II said.

Return gifts

But first, the bishops should make amends by returning the “gifts,” including the Pajeros, and refrain from criticizing President Aquino, Lacson said.

“The bishops should come clean by doing what they preach to the congregation—tell the truth and confess to their sins and make amends by returning whatever bribes some of them may have received from Gloria Macapagal Arroyo,” Lacson said in a text message.

Lack of moral ascendancy

The recipients, he added, “must henceforth refrain from attacking P-noy (President Aquino) for utter lack of moral ascendancy.”

Honasan, chair of the committees on public order and public information, agreed that the bishops should “come clean.”

Internal probe

But he said the serious allegations that could adversely affect Church credibility would be better addressed not through the media, but through an internal investigation by the CBCP.

“We should stop doing this over the media,” Honasan said in a phone interview. “We don’t want to blow this up, considering the sensitivity of the matter that will impact on the credibility and stability of the Church.”

“Considering how vocal the Church is on local issues, it’s not good for their credibility to be tainted,” he added.

Address the charges

Former Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr., head of the Center for Local Governance based at the University of Makati, said the bishops were left with no choice but to squarely address the charges.

“Unfortunately since the bishops concerned live in a country where negatives exhilarate people, they only have a Hobson’s choice. They must simply grin and bear it or offer explanations that won’t satisfy the already unsatisfiable masses of the people,” he said by text.

The former senator, however, doubted that the charges would make a dent on the credibility of the Church, which is fiercely opposed to the reproductive health (RH) bill.

“The Church, though, might lose the support of some surface Catholics who cannot distinguish between the irrationality of the RH bill and the frivolity of some of its shepherds,” he said.

“But if that should come about, it would be a welcome development: a cleansing process that should have taken place years ago,” he added. With reports from Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon, and Yolanda Sotelo and Villamor Visaya Jr., Inquirer Northern Luzon; and Ryan D. Rosauro, Inquirer Mindanao

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TAGS: Archbishop Paciano Aniceto, Arroyo administration, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), corrupt bishops, Elections, Former Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr., Mitsubishi Pajero, Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), Senator Panfilo Lacson, Senator Teofisto Guingona III
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