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Why apologize? ‘Bishops yielded to temptation’

President Benigno Aquino III on Friday said he saw no reason to apologize to Catholic bishops caught in a controversy over funds of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), as one PCSO official denounced “unscrupulous”  prelates who succumbed to “bribery and temptation” during the Arroyo administration.

“It’s not clear why I should apologize to them,” Mr. Aquino said, referring to calls from some bishops for him and PCSO Chair Margarita Juico to issue a public apology for purportedly dragging the Church into the scandal.

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“I’m ready to apologize if I did something wrong. But where did all these start?” Aquino asked.

House speaker Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte Jr. also said there was no need for Mr. Aquino to apologize to the bishops because he was not responsible for starting the controversy.

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“No need to apologize. Bishops should not have solicited in the first place,” Belmonte said in a text message.

Some PCSO officials dug in.

One of them—Director Aleta Tolentino—lashed out at some “unscrupulous bishops,” comparing them to rust that she said would destroy the Church.

In a phone interview with the Inquirer, Tolentino accused them of yielding to “bribery and temptation” during the Arroyo administration by accepting funds they later used to buy sport utility vehicles.

Tolentino said it was fact that the bishops “solicited and received money from the former PCSO board through the endorsement of former President (Gloria Macapagal) Arroyo.”

Drawing a biblical comparision, Tolentino said: “Jesus did not give in when he was tempted by the devil. They should be like him. But unfortunately, they gave in to bribery and temptation. They gave in to the previous administration who tempted them using their needs and weaknesses.”

‘I wasn’t a participant’

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Talking to reporters in Calamba City, Laguna province, Mr. Aquino said the present PCSO board only took its cue from a Commission on Audit report that labeled as unconstitutional the cash donations received by the bishops during the Arroyo administration.

“I was not a participant. It was they [bishops] and my predecessor that communicated,” the President Aquino said. “Why do we have to apologize?”

At a Senate probe into the donations, officials of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said it was sorry that inconsistencies of its actions with its teachings had brought pain and confusion to the Church flock.

Not picking a fight

Mr. Aquino spoke to reporters during a visit to Calamba to distribute house keys to soldiers and police personnel in a low-cost housing community.

Told that the bishops concerned were hurt by the controversy, Mr. Aquino said: “I will just accept their statement as caused by the anger of those who made it.”

“But I think those who were affected or some of those who were affected know that we’re not picking a fight with them,” he said. “They know that this situation could have worsened if it was our objective. But we no longer went into it.”

A Senate blue ribbon committee probe established that the vehicles were not the extravagant types portrayed in the media but four-wheel-drive vehicles necessary for use over rough terrain in the countryside.

Church-state relations

The bishops said the vehicles were used in their social missions but one said his vehicle was used to transport election returns.

Mr. Aquino said the controversy did not affect Church-government relations.

“For me, there was no effect in the relationship between the Church and our administration,” he said.

“We have dialogues if we don’t have appointments in other places. We try that whenever a member of the Church or whichever sector would want to talk to us, we make time for that,” he added.

Trained to respect elders

Mr. Aquino said he is a Catholic raised to respect his elders, “and many of these bishops are older than I.”

While the media would find it more interesting to report that the President and Church leaders were at odds, “it’s not good for the country,” he said.

Asked for comment on demands by some bishops for her and her board to resign, Juico replied in a text message: “Did we do anything wrong!”

PCSO board secretary Ed Araullo said: “They admitted (to accepting donations), they apologized, they should resign.”

They destroy ‘like rust’

In a separate phone interview, Director Tolentino said the bishops who wanted the PCSO officials to resign should instead call for the resignation of the prelates involved in the controversy.

“Why didn’t they call for the bishops who ‘wounded’ the Catholic Church to resign? Why didn’t they condemn the acts of their colleagues?” Tolentino said. “Are those bishops resigning?”

“The Church should not shield these unscrupulous bishops because they are destroying it like rust. Being a Catholic, this greatly pains me,” she stressed.

“They (the bishops) should be the epitome of the highest form of morality, simplicity and propriety. If they cannot live with that, they should resign themselves.”

‘Simply told the truth’

Tolentino asked the bishops to say what their basis was for demanding that the new PCSO management resign.

“Is it because we simply told the truth… that they solicited and received money from the former PCSO board through the endorsement of former President (Gloria Macapagal) Arroyo? Simply because we revealed that?” Tolentino said.

“Is it because Mrs. Juico committed a mistake by calling a Montero a Pajero? I didn’t hear her say that (Pajero). But why? Is committing a mistake in identifying the vehicle that they purchased the gravest sin?” she said.

“The fact remains that they solicited, they received funds which they used to purchase sport utility vehicles, albeit not a Pajero, but a Montero.”

Humility

Tolentino said the latest pronouncement of some bishops would not help heal the “wounds” created by the controversy.

“I thought they were already talking about humility and acceptance. But they keep on reviving the issue. Do they want us to dwell on this?” she said.

She said the PCSO had yet to decide what to do with the vehicles being surrendered by the bishops.

She said they had yet to consult with the Commission on Audit whether the vehicles should be auctioned off.

“We will ask the COA if that is valid liquidation since what the former PCSO board gave to them was money,” she said. With a report from Gil C. Cabacungan Jr.

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TAGS: Benigno Aquino III, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, Catholic Church, CBCP, Pajero Scandal, PCSO, Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, Religion
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