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Bishops vow to return vehicles to PCSO

UPDATED 3:30 p.m. - Appearing contrite before a Senate committee, Catholic bishops implicated in the PCSO fund scandal vowed to return vehicles they received from the Arroyo administration. Butuan Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos admitted to a "lapse in judgment" in asking ex-President Arroyo for an SUV for his birthday in 2009. It was the first time that Catholic bishops have appeared in the Senate to answer corruption-related charges. "Regardless of whether the acquisition of the vehicles has been lawful or unlawful, constitutional or unconstitutional, we are returning the vehicles," Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo told the Senate blue ribbon committee on Wednesday.
Bishops from Luzon brought these four vehicles to the Senate premises on Wednesday. These vehicles, received from the Arroyo administration, will be returned to PCSO. Photo by Tina Panganiban-Perez
Quevedo expressed the Church's "sincere sadness" that many Catholics were "confused, disturbed, and even scandalized." "We honestly failed to consider the pitfalls to which these grants could possible lead. We also express our readiness to heal this wound so we could all move forward," he added. Ready for turnover Quevedo said the vehicles in Mindanao are ready for turnover to the PCSO representative there and that the vehicles in Luzon have been brought to the Senate premises. PCSO director Atty. Aleta Tolentino had earlier cited a COA report that P6.9 million of the charity’s funds were allocated for the purchase of utility vehicles, supposedly for the Archdiocese of Cotabato, Zamboanga, Caritas Nueva Segovia, Basilan, and Butuan from February to July 2009. During Wednesday's Senate committee hearing, the following prelates expressed their intention to return the vehicle donations from the PCSO:
  • Bishop Rodolfo F. Beltran, DD (Apostolic Vicariate Bontoc-Lagawe)
  • Bishop Leopoldo C. Juacian, SVD, DD (Diocese of Bangued, Abra)
  • Most Rev. Martin S.Jumoad, DD (Roman Catholic Prelate of Isabela, Basilan)
  • Bishop Juan de Dios M. Pueblos (Diocese of Butuan)
  • Archbishop Orlando B. Quevedo OMI (Archdiocese of Cotabato)
  • Most Rev. Ernesto A. Salgado, DD (Archbishop of Nueva Segovia, Caritas Nueva Segovia)
  • Archbishop Romulo G. Valles, DD (Zamboanga Archdiocesan Social Action Apostolate) During the panel's first hearing, PCSO chair Margie Juico said the charity fund's previous board had granted Quevedo's vehicle request for the Diocese of Abra and Bontoc but that they could not determine what type of vehicles were donated to them because these were not liquidated. On the other hand, she said Jumoad received funding for a Mitsubishi Strada; Pueblos a Montero Sport; the Archdiocese of Cotabato a Toyota Grandia; and the Archdiocese of Caritas Nueva Segovia an Isuzu Crosswind. It was also revealed that Pueblos had personally written to then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to ask for the Montero Sport as a gift for his 66th birthday. 'Lapse in judgment' During Wednesday's Senate hearing, Pueblos admitted writing to Arroyo and asking for a 4x4 vehicle for charity work. "I accept full responsibility for this personal action. My letter to the President was a lapse in judgment on my part," Pueblos said. However, he noted that they really needed a "good vehicle" to reach far-flung areas for their missions. "We are (also) trying to build peace in Mindanao," he said. In response to a query from Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada, Pueblos said that even if the devil had offered him money that can be used for charity, he would accept it. "If I could use (the money) for this kind of work (I would)," he said, adding that the "support" he committed to Arroyo only meant regarding the work she has been doing in their area. Vehicles used to help the sick, needy Quevedo, Valles, and Jaucian likewise said that they used the donated vehicles for transporting the sick and relief goods to areas that cannot be reached by normal vehicles. "I did not receive from PCSO a Pajero, I did not receive an SUV or any vehicle for my personal use," said Valles. The bishops also said that they did not only help Catholics but also Muslims, who are the majority of the population in their areas. "If you wish, ask them," said Quevedo. Jaucian likewise said that even with the vehicles returned, they will still serve their communities. "Ito po ang aming buhay at misyon (This is our life and mission)," he said. Miriam: Granting of vehicles not a Constitutional violation Meanwhile, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago defended the prelates who received vehicle donations from the PCSO, saying that no Constitutional provision was violated. "I humbly submit that the Commission on Audit (COA) report was wrong and that there was no Constitutional violation," she said at the start of Wednesday's Senate blue ribbon committee hearing. The senator, who is also chairman of the Senate committee on Constitutinal amendments, revision of codes, and laws, said the vehicle donations were not in violation of the Constitution. Article VI Section 29 (2) of the Constitution decrees that "No public money or property shall be appropriated, applied, paid, or employed, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, sectarian institution, or system of religion, or of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher, or dignitary as such, except when such priest, preacher, minister, or dignitary is assigned to the armed forces, or to any penal institution, or government orphanage or leprosarium." She explained that the donations did not advance any religion because the purpose was for charity and that the government should not "be embarrased by its activities simply because of incidental results." "Ano ba talaga pakay ng gobyerno sa pagpapamigay ng pera (What is the purpose of the government in releasing money)," she said. She added that the PCSO management and not the prelates should be held liable if other religions were not given the same treatment. "The recipients have no liability," she said. She likewise said that the COA's mandate is to audit and not to settle the Constitutional violations. Urged to reconsider decision Meanwhile, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said the responsibility of making sure that public funds and properties are not used principally for religious purposes is not on the recipient but on the government agencies. "I would like to express oru regrets and appreciation for the patience of the leaders of the Catholic Churchc for being here with us to clarify this point for the people," he said. Enrile, Estrada, and Senate Majority Floor Leader Vicente Sotto III also urged the bishops reconsider their decision to return the vehicles since these are being used for charity and other missions. "I know all of you mean well. I know you're using it for our people," said Estrada during the hearing. Quevedo, however, said they are firm in their decision. Enrile said they leave the decision up to the prelates. Malacanang, meanwhile, refused to comment on the Catholic bishops' offer to return the vehicles to the PCSO. Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said they will let the PCSO decide on the matter. “We reserve comment and defer to PCSO on the matter of whether or not it will accept the vehicles returned," she said. Santiago said she plans to conduct hearings in August about writing new charters for the PCSO and Pagcor, the government's gaming corporation. - with Amita Legaspi, LBG/VVP/HS, GMA News
  • Tags: cbcp, pcso, senate