CBCP apologizes for SUVs | Inquirer News

CBCP apologizes for SUVs

7 bishops ready to accept responsibility, consequences
By: - Reporter / @mj_uyINQ
/ 12:39 AM July 12, 2011

WE ARE SORRY Outgoing CBCP president Bishop Nereo Odchimar shows the pastoral statement containing the Church’s apology during Monday’s news conference at the Pope Pius XII Catholic Center in Manila. NIÑO JESUS ORBETA

A contrite Church hierarchy on Monday apologized for its involvement in the controversy at the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) in which seven bishops received funds from the state-run charity agency for the purchase of SUV and other vehicles during the Arroyo administration.

“Our Mother Church has been deeply wounded by the controversies in the [PCSO] that have erupted in the past two weeks … As shepherds struggling to love you like Jesus the Good Shepherd, we are sorry for the pain and sadness that these events have brought upon you,” Tandag Bishop Nereo Odchimar, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, read from a pastoral statement titled “A Time of Pain, A Time of Grace.”


At the closing of the Catholic bishops’ plenary assembly on Monday, the CBCP said inconsistencies of its actions with its pastoral teachings had brought confusion and sadness to many of its faithful, particularly the youth and the poor.

Odchimar assured the faithful that the bishops’ acceptance of the donations was done without malice. “Out of their sincere desire to help their people, they failed to consider the pitfalls to which these grants could possibly lead them,” he said. (See CBCP full statement on this channel.)


“They have also expressed their readiness to do everything that is necessary to heal this wound so that we can all move forward in hope,” he said in a press conference at the Pope Pius XII Catholic Center in Manila, where more than 60 active and retired bishops from across the country had gathered since Friday for a twice-a-year plenary assembly.

Senate probe

Senators, who are looking into the fund misuse at the PCSO during the presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, have summoned the bishops to a hearing of the blue ribbon committee. The lawmakers claim that the donation to the bishops violated the Constitution.

The donations came as Arroyo faced an impeachment crisis stemming from accusations of corruption and cheating in the 2004 presidential election.

The seven bishops linked to the PCSO fund misuse were Butuan Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos, Zamboanga Archbishop Romulo Valles, Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo, Abra Bishop Leonardo Jaucian, Basilan Bishop Martin Jumoad, Bontoc Bishop Rodolfo Beltran and Nueva Segovia Archbishop Ernesto Antolin Salgado.

Pueblos, who personally requested a Mitsubishi Montero Sports 4×4 from Arroyo as a “birthday gift” in 2009, earlier said he was going to deliver a privilege speech at the Senate.

Five other bishops are expected to attend the Senate hearing scheduled for Wednesday. Salgado is out of the country.


The Church requested its flock to be “slow in judgment” and to “seek the truth always in charity.”

“We assure you that the bishops concerned are ready to accept responsibility of their action and to face the consequences if it would be proven unlawful, anomalous and unconstitutional,” Odchimar said.

Fair appeal

Malacañang welcomed the CBCP statement.

“It was expected of them to take a stand because several bishops are concerned. Now that they’ve spoken that they’re ready to accept the consequences, we will have to see what those will be in the unfolding of the investigation in the Senate,” said deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte.

Valte said the CBCP appeal that the bishops not be judged at this point was fair enough as the Senate was still looking into the matter.

Humbled by candor

Senators Panfilo Lacson and Teofisto Guingona III also welcomed the CBCP act of contrition.

“To me that’s more than enough. For me that’s very admirable—to be humble, to say sorry to the public,” Lacson said. “I salute them.”

Guingona, the chair of the blue ribbon committee, said he was “humbled” by the bishops’ “openness and candor.”

At Wednesday’s hearing, the bishops will be treated with respect, both senators said.

“We will continue this fair and transparent process so that it can be brought to satisfactory conclusion for the benefit of everyone,” Guingona said. “We should provide the bishops a forum to officially explain [their side].”

Days of meditation

Msgr. Juanito Figura, CBCP secretary general, said the pastoral statement was the fruit of days of careful study, listening, meditation and prayer by the bishops during the plenary.

The CBCP Plenary Council, which meets every January and July, is the highest decision-making body of the Church hierarchy. While discussing issues confronting the Church, the assembly also tackled the latest scandal to have rocked the Philippine Catholic Church.

“The document is the fruit of a sincere and wholehearted gesture of solidarity and charity of the CBCP as a body to the individual bishops implicated in the so-called controversy in the PCSO,” Figura said.

Reexamine values

In the wake of the controversy, the CBCP also decided to “reexamine” its style of collaboration with government agencies for its social work for the poor, putting premium on respect of “pastoral sensibilities and observance of “the highest ethical standards,” Odchimar said.

“We shall examine our values in the light of our vocation to be disciples of Jesus Christ. We commit ourselves to the long journey of personal and social transformation required of all disciples of the Lord,” he added.

“We plead with you to walk with us in this path of constant renewal.”

The CBCP advised the media that it would not entertain questions following the delivery of the pastoral statement.

In deference to hearing

Figura said the bishops, who attended the plenary, had agreed that nothing beyond the official CBCP statement should be said in the news conference.

“Please understand that… no questions will be entertained for the reason that the bishops have the consensus that they value and highly respect the forum at the Senate,” Figura told reporters.

The CBCP statement evidently did not touch on questions whether the vehicles granted through PCSO donations shall be returned to the government.

“It was discussed by the permanent council and the plenary assembly, which is the higher assembly. But because the vehicles were not given to the assembly or the CBCP, it is not for the assembly to decide on that,” Odchimar said.

Figura said the Church hierarchy was still leaving it up to the seven bishops to decide on the matter.

Conscience call

Lacson, a member of the blue ribbon committee, said it was the bishops’ “conscience call” whether to return the SUVs.

“I don’t see any criminal liability in a bishop driving an SUV that came from PCSO. It’s a donation. The issue is the misuse of fund,” he said.

Lacson said the burden of proving that the donation for the purchase of the SUVs lay with the PCSO.

“The burden should be on the PCSO violating the Constitution rather than the recipients,” he said, referring to the constitutional prohibition on the donation of government funds to a religious sect or a preacher.

Lacson also said that the Senate should not be distracted from the main thrust of its inquiry to establish the misuse of charity funds by the previous administration.

“The convenient diversion here is the bishops, which we do not like to happen. We want to stick to the core issue of anomalies, the corruption in the PCSO,” he said. With reports from TJ Burgonio and Christine O. Avendaño

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