CBCP urged: Don’t be blind on Pajero bishops
“Question: What will the CBCP do about it? Will it play blind, deaf and dumb to the scandal? Or will it give the issue formal attention and official action?”
These were the questions posed by a former president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) on Thursday concerning some bishops who had purportedly received gifts of Pajeros from the Arroyo administration. At least one bishop indicated he was ready to face an investigation.
Some senators said bishops were not immune from criminal prosecution, with Sen. Panfilo Lacson saying: “No one is above the law, not even the bishops. If you have criminal liability, you can be charged.”
Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz wanted the controversy included on the agenda of the CBCP plenary assembly this month.
Cruz wrote: “With a heavy heart, do allow me to bring to your kind attention the above-cited matter begging for the official attention and formal action of the Conference as a whole.”
In a letter to the CBCP leadership, Cruz reminded fellow bishops that the existence of a “Malacañang diocese”—which refers to a group of prelates closely identified with former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo—was an open secret among them.
“The perceived and alleged existence of the so-called ‘Malacañang Diocese’ in the CBCP brought to existence by the previous corrupt and corrupting administration is not really a secret,” Cruz said in his one-page letter.
Cruz titled his letter “Pajero Bishops,” a term coined by the media to refer to prelates who had allegedly got SUVs from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) during the Arroyo administration.
The Inquirer got a copy of Cruz’s letter from a separate source within the CBCP. The letter was addressed to Msgr. Juanito Figura, CBCP secretary general.
Quevedo: No Pajero
PCSO Chair Margarita Juico said recently that her office was verifying information that six or seven units of Mitsubishi Pajero were donated to bishops a few months before Arroyo left Malacañang last year.
Juico did not say if the SUVs, assuming they had indeed been accepted by some bishops, were used for the bishops’ personal service.
At least eight bishops have been linked to the “Malacañang Diocese,” as per the accounts of other sources in the CBCP.
In Cotabato City, Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo said he had never asked the PCSO to donate a vehicle for his use or for the use of his prelature.
Quevedo was CBCP president at the time of attempts to impeach Arroyo. During Quevedo’s term, the CBCP was perceived to be cool to calls for Arroyo’s removal from office. Instead, it urged her to take the lead in reforming the bureaucracy.
“In the end, we did not ask for resignation,’’ Caceres Bishop Leonardo Legazpi said after a CBCP pastoral letter in 2008. “The letter brings it to the reality that we still expect the President to be part of the efforts to seek reforms, to find the proper pathway for our nation to come to political maturity.”
In a text message to the Inquirer on Thursday, Quevedo said if there were CBCP requests for help, these had something to do with “social action, poverty alleviation and community development.”
“I have not received nor requested for a Pajero or any vehicle for my personal use,” he said.
Ready for probe
Quevedo said he had been using a Toyota Innova and a 4×4 pickup truck, which were donated by a cardinal in Munich.
“Both vehicles were grants from Germany,” he said.
Talking separately over Church-run Radyo Veritas, Quevedo said a news report that he received a Pajero from the Arroyo administration was “very damaging” to him.
“I don’t have any Pajero. I don’t use any Pajero,” he said.
“The PCSO has to look into it (the allegation) itself and have solid evidence for its allegations,” he added.
Asked if he was ready to face an investigation, Quevedo said, according to a transcript provided by the radio: “I will. But why should I go there? Why should I be investigated when it is easy to find out from the PCSO.”
Payable to archdioceses
PCSO Director Aleta Tolentino said a previous PCSO board approved the grant of two SUVs to Butuan City Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos, and one each to Quevedo, Msgr. Augusto Laban of Sorsogon and Fr. Roger Lood of Iligan City.
Tolentino said that except for Lood, checks supposedly for the purchase of the vehicles were released to the members of the clergy. She said the check for Lood was not released because the priest failed to submit the necessary requirements.
Tolentino also said all the checks, except for the one for Pueblos, was payable to their archdioceses.
“Pueblos’ check was payable to him,” Tolentino added. He said the PCSO was not sure if the money released was actually used to pay for the vehicles.
Pueblos in a text message said the allegations were entirely false. He said that while his car was a Pajero, it did not come from the PCSO. “No Pajero from PCSO,” he said.
Iligan Bishop Elenito Galido said that bishops linked to the controversy would make themselves available for an investigation.
“I think if any investigation in the Senate or Congress will be done objectively in order to come out with the truth, then the Catholic Church, the bishops are open to be investigated and should be able to come out with what is really the truth,” Galido said.
He also said that it was the responsibility of the bishops linked to the PCSO gifts to come out and “make an accounting of (themselves.)”
Galido admitted that one of his priests, Lood, had requested a Pajero to be used for the local church’s program against drug abuse. But he said that though there was a request, no car was given.
Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes, a member of the CBCP Permanent Council, said Laban was already retired and was not a member of the Diocese of Sorsogon.
“He is from Sorsogon but is a retired priest from the Archdiocese of Manila so whatever he received I do not know,” Bastes said.
The Senate blue ribbon committee has said it will look into the controversy.
Lacson said the Senate has documents showing bishops, as well as lawmakers, benefited from PCSO funds.
The committee chair, Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, also said that “no one is above the law.”
He said the main focus of the inquiry would be to unmask the personalities who benefited from the PCSO funds and who “should be held responsible.”
But Guingona said his committee would not automatically summon the bishops.
Lacson said one of bishops who received either a Pajero or Ford Everest was a staunch ally of Arroyo and a fierce critic of President Aquino.
“There’s one bishop who is quick to attack P-Noy (President Aquino) because he benefited from the GMA (Gloria Macapagal Arroyo) administration,” Lacson said over radio dwIZ. With reports from Tina G. Santos in Manila; and Charlie Señase and Edwin Fernandez, Inquirer Mindanao
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