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CBCP to probe ‘Pajero 7’

PCSO names dioceses that got SUVs and cash

The new management of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office has identified six Catholic dioceses and one organization that received sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and cash amounting to P8.3 million from the PCSO during Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s presidency.

PCSO general manager Jose Ferdinand Rojas II told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that the Commission on Audit (COA) had found “unconstitutional” the disbursement of money to the dioceses that was approved by the former management and board from 2007 to 2010.

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“The new PCSO board has found these donations to the Church or any religious organization illegal, and we have stopped these since we took over last year,” Rojas said.

Confronted with the controversy involving bishops at the receiving end of largesse from the Arroyo administration using PCSO funds, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) on Friday said its individual members were “directly” responsible to the Pope and could not be forced to abide by the group’s stand against accepting or soliciting donations from gambling.

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Tandag Archbishop Nereo Odchimar also said the CBCP would “cross the bridge” and decide what action to take after discussing the matter at its plenary assembly next weekend.

The recipients of the illegal donations for the purchase of 4×4 vehicles were the Diocese of Butuan (P1.704 million released on July 9, 2009), Zamboanga Archdiocesan Social Action Apostolate (P1.54 million released on July 9, 2009), Archdiocese of Cotabato (P1.44 million released on Feb. 24, 2009), Diocese of Bangued, Abra (P1.129 million released on Jan. 16, 2009), Roman Catholic Prelate of Isabela, Basilan (P1.125 million released on July 2, 2009), and Apostolic Vicariate Bontoc (P600,000 released on April 30, 2007).

A seventh recipient, Caritas Nueva Segovia, which covers the province of Ilocos Sur, received P720,000 on March 17, 2010, under the general term “financial assistance.”

The leaders of these dioceses are Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos (Butuan), Archbishop Romulo G. Valles (Zamboanga), Archbishop Orlando B. Quevedo (Cotabato), Bishop Leopoldo C. Jaucian (Bangued, Abra), Bishop Martin Jumoad (Isabela, Basilan), Bishop Rodolfo F. Beltran (Bontoc) and Archbishop Ernesto Antolin Salgado (Caritas Nueva Segovia).

Rojas provided the Inquirer photocopies of the actual checks given to the bishops and parts of the COA’s 2009 report.

Political leverage

The 1987 Constitution states that “no public money or property shall be appropriated, applied, paid or employed, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, sectarian institution, or system of religion, or of any priest, preacher, minister, other religious teacher, or dignitary as such, except when such priest, preacher, minister or dignitary is assigned to the Armed Forces or to any penal institution or government orphanage or leprosarium.”

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In an earlier interview with the Inquirer, PCSO Chair Margarita Juico, who served as PCSO director from 2001 to 2005, said then President Arroyo showered the bishops with SUVs and cash donations using PCSO funds for political leverage amid loud calls for her resignation in 2005, at the peak of the “Hello Garci” election fraud scandal.

Juico said Arroyo had tried to woo an influential group of bishops to her side in order to prevent the CBCP from making a unified stand on her resignation, which was then crucial to her further stay in office.

(In a radio interview, activist priest Robert Reyes said many Church leaders were surprised that the CBCP did not make a stand to force Arroyo to step down. He said influencing just 10 percent of the 90 bishops in the CBCP would be enough to “divide” their vote.)

Juico claimed the Arroyo administration had left the PCSO P4 billion in debt—P1 billion in unpaid bills to media organizations and P3 billion in payables to government hospitals. She said the PCSO board, then under Arroyo’s control, used up not only its annual operating funds but also the money meant for charity.

She also claimed that the old PCSO board “comingled” funds despite a mandate in its charter to keep three separate accounts for prize money, operations, and charity funds from the money raised from lotto and other games of chance.

No police powers

Asked if the Church leadership would look into the controversy, Odchimar told reporters: “We will discuss that at the CBCP plenary and we are going to listen to the opinions of other bishops.”

Odchimar claimed the CBCP had no police powers over the bishops, saying: “The individual bishop is directly responsible to the Holy Father, not to the CBCP, as far as jurisdiction is concerned.”

He said that while the organization agreed 10 years ago not to accept or solicit donations from legal and illegal gambling, it “cannot compel” every bishop to abide by its policies.

“The CBCP doesn’t have jurisdiction over individual bishops [as] it is just a gathering of bishops to have common apostolic roles. But we cannot oblige them to follow the decisions made by the CBCP,” he said.

‘We have to decide’

The CBCP plenary, scheduled for July 8-10, is expected to be attended by 80 to 95 active bishops out of a total of 131 bishops nationwide.

Convened every January and July, the CBCP plenary is the highest decision-making body of the Philippine Church hierarchy.

Odchimar said that as CBCP president, he would also speak with the bishops mentioned by the PCSO as having accepted Pajeros from Arroyo.

“If they will be around, we will be asking their position,” he said.

Odchimar was in Manila on Friday to represent the CBCP at a meeting of the Knights of Columbus, the world’s largest Catholic fraternal service organization.

Asked what formal action the CBCP would take on the issue, he said: “We will cross the bridge when we come to it. We have to decide.”

But Odchimar lamented the purported rashness of the PCSO in airing allegations that had yet to be validated.

“I regret that… It is reprehensible,” he said.  “We should be accurate in reporting because the credibility of the bishop would be put in doubt.”

He said that with unsubstantiated accusations, names were being destroyed and personalities were coming under suspicion.

“It would be irresponsible to mention names and then later it would be proven not true,” he said.

While saying that he had no personal knowledge of vehicles given to his colleagues, Odchimar agreed with Archbishop Orlando Quevedo’s reported statement that some vehicles used by Church institutions had been provided by the government for social action and medical mission purposes.

“These vehicles are not intended for personal use, as mentioned by Archbishop Quevedo,” he said.

For medical ops

In a text message to the Inquirer in Zamboanga City, Bishop Jumoad on Fiday admitted receiving P1.1 million from the PCSO for the purchase of a vehicle “which we have been using in medical and relief operations.”

Jumoad did not say when the money was given to him but said it was used to buy a Mitsubishi Strada.

“We use this to bring foodstuffs to communities attacked by lawless elements, like Cabobo, Balobo, Pali and Canas. We use this also in Tubigan to bring foodstuff and materials to [re]construct burned houses,” he said.

Jumoad denied that the vehicle was for his personal use, and said “[Education] Secretary Armin Luistro used [it] also.”

Zamboanga Archbishop Romulo Valles admitted that the PCSO had funded some of the prelature’s social action projects.

“The Social Action Center through its director Father Alain [Ruiz] made some requests for charity works and my name would be in the [request] letter because I always sign [it],” Valles said.

He said he did not find it wrong to sign the requests because these were for the poor.

“All the funds going to Social Action were not for my personal use…” he said.

Valles said the PCSO had not given him “a tire or a bolt, much more a car.”

“The car I am using is not from the PCSO,” he said, referring to the 15-year-old Nissan Terrano that he “inherited from Archbishop [Carmelo] Morelos.”

“I am very grateful because he took care of this very well,” he said.

Valles also said he was “a little bit disturbed” by the reports about bishops receiving vehicles from the PCSO.

‘Haven’t heard of it’

In Davao City, Davao Archbishop Fernando Capalla denied endorsing requests for donations from bishops.

Capalla, who was CBCP head at the time the supposed requests were made, also told the Inquirer that he had not even heard of any bishop receiving cars from the PCSO.

During Capalla’s term as president, the CBCP was perceived as being soft on Arroyo.

Capalla said the PCSO phoned him on Wednesday. “They found that I had endorsed a project for Fr. Roger Lood, a project for alcoholics,” he said. “But I didn’t know if it was approved or not.”

He also said that Lood, of the Diocese of Iligan, thought of establishing the program after being “cured of his alcoholism, and wanting to share his experience with other alcoholics.”

He admitted telling Lood to seek assistance from the PCSO because “it is a charitable institution [that is] helping the poor.”

Capalla said his endorsement of Lood’s project might have been the reason his name was mentioned in the SUV issue.

Asked what vehicle he was using in the archdiocese of Davao, he said: “It is only an old sedan, which the diocese bought years ago.” With reports from Julie Alipala and Dennis Jay Santos, Inquirer Mindanao

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TAGS: Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, Catholic Church, CBCP, Church, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Pajero 7, PCSO, Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, poltics, Religion, Sports Utility Vehicles, SUV
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