Vidal to lead bishops’ probe into PCSO funds, luxury cars?
“I’M in charge of the bishops…. That’s why I’m working on this.”
With these words, Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal indicated he would lead an inquiry that the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) would conduct into the alleged misuse of funds of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) involving some prelates.
Vidal heads the CBCP’s committee on bishops’ concerns.
Details of the internal investigation, which includes the PCSO’s grant of luxury vehicles to some clergy leaders, were sketchy.
Vidal wouldn’t elaborate and begged off further media queries.
Bishops are in Manila for the CBCP’s biannual plenary meeting this weekend at the Pius 12th Catholic Center in Manila.
The plenary is usually done behind closed doors. Elections are scheduled today. A press conference is expected on Monday when the council is expected to release its collective stand on the PCSO scandal.
In Cebu, Msgr. Esteban Binghay, episcopal vicar, said he didn’t think the 81-year-old Vidal would actually lead the investigation.
“Cardinal Vidal has already retired,” he told Cebu Daily News, when reached for comment.
The present PCSO administration said an audit showed that at least P6.9 million in charity funds were used to buy vehicles upon the request of some bishops.
Such donations, it said, violate a law prohibiting the use of government money for religious purposes.
The CBCP website said Catholic bishops who received sports utility vehicles (SUVs) from the state-owned lottery are returning them to the agency.
Among them is Butuan Bishop Juan De Dios Pueblos, who got a P1.629 million Mitsubishi Montero from PCSO in 2009.
“I don’t see any problem with that. I am riding a very old vehicle within the diocese itself. I could even ride a small vehicle if it is necessary. It will not really be a problem,” Pueblos said.
The bishop said he is also willing to attend the ongoing Senate investigation into the alleged anomalous transactions by the PCSO during the Arroyo administration.
“Yes, I would even like to make a privilege speech in Senate,” he said. “It’s a character assassination what they did to me and because of this I have also in sort of to defend myself.”
Basilan Bishop Martin Jumoad said he is willing to return the P1.225 million Mitsubishi Estrada that his diocese bought using financial aid received from the PCSO in 2009.
Jumoad said the pickup utility vehicle is being used not as his personal car but for medical and relief operations in Basilan.
On Monday, the CBCP is also set to come out with a collective statement on the issue.
“We have not discussed anything yet, so just wait for our statement,” CBCP President and Tandag Bishop Nereo Odchimar said.
Aside from the alleged PCSO fund mess, the CBCP is also set to discuss the Reproductive Health (RH) bill.
CBCPNews said Bishops Deogracias Iñiguez of Kalookan and Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon agree that the vehicles should given back to the PCSO to finally put an end to the controversy.
“Just return the vehicles to put an end to this issue. Not doing so will only fuel speculations,” said Iñiguez.
“Return all these vehicles to P-Noy (President Aquino). They’ll make it appear that the bishops personally used those vehicles when the bishops didn’t,” Bastes said.
The Aquino administration earlier said they are leaving the decision to the bishops whether or not to return the vehicles.
Malacañang defended the PCSO expose saying that it is only doing its job of promoting transparency in their search for truth.
Other bishops who received budget for buying an SUV are Archbishops Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato, Romulo Valles of Zamboanga, Ernesto Salgado of Nueva Segovia, Bishops Rodolfo Beltran of Bontoc-Lagawe, and Leopoldo Jaucian of Abra, according to CBCPNews.
The CBCP plenary assembly, the highest decision-making body of the bishops’ conference, convenes every January and July.
PCSO officials earlier accused some bishops of asking for and receiving donations, including luxury vehicles, from then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for political patronage.
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