Bishops: Why single us out? | Inquirer News

Bishops: Why single us out?

The president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) on Saturday said the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) should stop singling out Catholic leaders and also name other religious groups that had received sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and cash from the Arroyo administration.

Tandag Bishop Nereo Odchimar said the focus on the bishops might be due to the Church’s critical stance against President Benigno Aquino III’s administration, particularly regarding the reproductive health (RH) bill.

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“There are other beneficiaries who are not from the Catholic Church. That is why others are asking why [the PCSO is] pinpointing Catholic bishops,” Odchimar told reporters.

“Is it because some of the bishops are critical? Is it because of the bishops’ position on the RH bill?” he said.

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‘Unfair’

Davao Archbishop Fernando Capalla made similar remarks to the CBCP News.

“If there’s malice in those donations to Catholic bishops, the PCSO must also identify all the other recipients from other churches,” he said.

Capalla said PCSO donations to Catholic institutions were being used for relief efforts and poverty alleviation and health programs.

“I don’t know why they take it [against] the bishops and make it appear scandalous,” he said. “This is unfair. I challenge them to show the records—the real records, and not the twisted ones.”

He also said the controversy “is really giving us priests a bad image.”

Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles said it was the “main intention” of the PCSO to “destroy the credibility of the bishops.”

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“But we are not afraid of it,” he said.

Basilan Bishop Martin Jumoad said he was prepared to surrender the SUV bought with PCSO funds but maintained that the bishops would always be critical of leaders like Mr. Aquino “who is doing nothing for the country.”

In an interview with Church-run Radio Veritas, Jumoad agreed that the PCSO was going after the Catholic hierarchy for being critical of the Aquino administration.

“We are always [in] critical collaboration [with] all Presidents because we want to be the voice in terms of telling the truth,” the bishop said, adding:

“… [T]here are times that we collaborate and there are times that we denounce, particularly if the people are not being given attention in terms of welfare.

“Another thing is, the bishops have been very vocal in criticizing when a President is doing nothing for the country, like P-Noy (Mr. Aquino), who has been in his position for one year but we see no direction from him.”

Jumoad said he was prepared to surrender the Mitsubishi Strada that was bought with P1.1 million from the PCSO.

He said the SUV was being used for medical and relief missions as well as in negotiations with kidnappers, “but … if P-Noy wants to get it, it’s ready.”

Only charity

Jumoad warned Mr. Aquino that it would be “very difficult to govern a nation when we are divided.”

“We have to cooperate and collaborate … to work together and dialogue,” the bishop said. “If you do not listen to us and if you only listen to those who will always praise you, then we will never move on.”

Bishop Leopoldo Jaucian of Bangued, Abra, admitted that his diocese received P1.129 million from the PCSO on Jan. 16, 2009, as revealed in a series of exposés by the agency’s new leadership installed by Mr. Aquino.

But he flatly denied PCSO Chair Margarita Juico’s claim that the donations were part of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s purported effort to buy support from the bishops amid demands for her resignation.

“It was an honest-to-goodness assistance for the Diocese of Abra,” Jaucian told the Inquirer on the phone. “It was a charitable assistance.”

He pointed out that the donation was made in January 2009, or more than three years after the “Hello Garci” election fraud scandal erupted.

Jaucian said funds were offered to his diocese for the purchase of a vehicle so he and other Church workers could reach more of their flock, especially in the rough terrain of the province.

“We never solicited anything,” he said.

Jaucian said the PCSO offer called for the diocese to “canvass” for a vehicle that would be useful for the ministry. He said diocesan employees came up with a list of possible purchases and picked the “cheapest,” a Mitsubishi Strada pickup.

“I never used the pickup as a personal service vehicle; definitely not,” he said. “It’s being used to deliver goods especially to people in faraway villages in Abra.”

COA report

In a news briefing, Mr. Aquino’s deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte denied that the administration was singling out the Catholic Church in taking action against PCSO donations to religious groups.

“There is no singling out that is happening because what we are talking about is the Commission on Audit report for 2008-2009,” Valte said.

“[In the report] they were the only ones found to have been given such. It’s not because it’s the Catholic Church,” she said.

Valte pointed out that it was prohibited under the Constitution for the state to favor any religious entity. She said such donations were also prohibited even if other religions or denominations were involved.

Asked if the prelates could be penalized in connection with the questioned PCSO donations, she said: “It depends on the nature of the offense.

Bishop Odchimar said on Friday that the CBCP would decide what action to take on the issue at its plenary assembly next weekend.

Odchimar had also said the CBCP’s 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. With reports from Christian V. Esguerra, Norman Bordadora and Cynthia D. Balana in Manila; and Yolanda Sotelo, Inquirer Northern Luzon

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TAGS: Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), Church, Government, PCSO, Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), Politics, Reproductive Health Bill, RH bill
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