‘Bishops used to divert focus from P1.5B PCSO deposit’
The bishops and their expensive wheels could just be a diversion.
Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago suspects that a media spin doctor has used the controversy involving some Church leaders and their government-donated vehicles to draw public attention away from an “unauthorized” P1.5-billion bank deposit made by officials of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) in 2009.
The senator said her colleagues in the committee could have saved time by not bothering the bishops to explain the SUV purchases.
“Why concentrate on the P7 million given to the bishops when there are billions that were apparently abused or wasted? Why are we being led down this path? Who is manipulating the scenarios?” she stressed.
“They are trying to cover up bigger, multibillion-peso anomalies in the PCSO and Pagcor [Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.] and have conveniently found a scapegoat in the CBCP [Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines],” Santiago added.
Santiago on Wednesday asked the Senate leadership to investigate the source of news reports on the so-called “Pajero Bishops,” the moniker initially given by the press to the seven prelates who received PCSO funds to buy service vehicles for their dioceses during the Arroyo administration.
The senator noted that, as the issue got unraveled in the past two weeks, it turned out that there was not even an actual Pajero among the vehicles in question.
“Who is this maleficent twisted genius?” the senator asked in a speech at Wednesday’s Senate hearing on the PCSO fund mess.
“Was this media spin designed to cover up the crime of depositing without authorization in a private bank the sum of P1.548 billion? Was this media spin further designed to call public attention away from the annual sum of … P7.6 billion made available to sticky fingers of the PCSO board?” Santiago added.
Making the rounds
The senator did not name the media practitioner but referred to the person as a “he” in an interview after she left the blue ribbon committee hearing.
Santiago said the public would not have referred to the much-publicized group of prelates as Pajero Bishops “if someone had not publicly put that thought in their head.”
“And if someone can make such a basic unintelligible mistake as calling the SUVs [sport utility vehicles] Pajeros, then it could only mean a media practitioner designed this entire program,” Santiago concluded.
Asked to elaborate, Santiago said, “There is at least one media practitioner who has been going around, at least in the print media, emphasizing the so-called bishop controversy.”
“Of course he is free (to do that), that is a perfectly legitimate occupation,” the senator said. “But if he is purposely maligning other sectors so as to derail the blue ribbon investigation, that already becomes a criminal effort to cover up, (an) obstruction of justice.”
Gov’t money in private bank
Santiago did not name the PCSO board members whom she believed were responsible for the unauthorized deposit of P1.548 billion in a private bank.
“But basing this on (Commission on Audit) records covering (2009), whoever were the members of board would be prima facie on its face responsible (for the unauthorized deposits),” she said.
A check with PCSO records showed that the PCSO board members at the time included Sergio O. Valencia, Manuel L. Morato, Ma. Fatima Valdes, Jose R. Taruc V, Raymundo T. Roquero and Nestor A. Camacho.
Santiago said the Senate could ask the Office of the Ombudsman to investigate the matter since deposits of government funds in private banks require approval from the Department of Finance.
Santiago also announced that the Senate committee on revision of laws, of which she is chairperson, will call a public hearing in August on proposals to revise the PCSO charter.
Santiago said PCSO and Pagcor funds “constitute the President’s social fund, which has served as a black budget, meaning a budget insulated from public scrutiny.”
Santiago noted that 45 percent of PCSO revenues consisted of charity and operations funds allocated by the PCSO board in 2009, and totaled P7.603 billion.
“There should be no President’s social fund because the entire government budget is already his budget,” she said. “The new law will repeal not only the PCSO charter but also all the various republic acts that seek to allocate certain PCSO funds to alphabet-soup national programs.”
“The new law will limit the PCSO board only to the function of regulating and supervising sweepstakes and lotto operations,” she said.
Also on Wednesday, the chairman of the House committee on games backed calls for the privatization of PCSO as long as it would result in bigger funds going to charity and in more transparent and efficient operations of the state lottery.
Manila Representative Amado Bagatsing said the Senate inquiry on the acts of the previous PCSO board showed that the agency had become prone to abuse.
The congressman noted that for many Filipinos, the PCSO has served as their chief benefactor, their last resort, especially when they needed medical assistance.
Letting the private sector run PCSO’s fund-raising games would have more advantages than disadvantages to both the bettors and charity beneficiaries, Bagatsing said.—With reports from Gil Cabacungan Jr. and Cynthia Balana
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