Bishops attend Senate hearing, return all PCSO cars
Angelo L. Gutierrez () - July 13, 2011 - 11:33am


MANILA, Philippines – Seven Catholic bishops today declared at the Senate that they are returning the vehicles donated by the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO).
Cotobato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo, who received a Toyota Grandia Hi-Ace from the PCSO, told the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee that they are returning the vehicles "to heal" the wounds inflicted by the PCSO fund controversy on the Catholic Church and for everybody to already "move forward."
Quevedo said that all vehicles donated by the PCSO to dioceses in Luzon were parked outside the legislative building in Pasay City, ready for turnover to an authorized representative of the government's lottery agency. He added that service vehicles donated by the PCSO to Mindanao dioceses have also been prepared for turnover.
Reading the letter of the seven bishops cited in the 2009 Commission on Audit (COA) report, the bishop from Cotabato defended why they had to ask for government funds for the purchase of the service vehicles.
"We are from the provinces that have some of the most difficult areas that we, as bishop, have to reach. Most of us are from calamity- or conflict-stricken areas. We serve communities with some of the poorest of the poor. Our vocation is to help them in so far as we can with our resources. When we lack resources, we seek the assistance from others," Quevedo said.
The bishop insisted that they did not commit any crime or violated laws when they asked and accepted funds for the purchase of the service vehicles.
However, he admitted, that they failed to foresee the possibility of the Catholic Church being dragged into a controversy by accepting such donations.
All vehicles granted by the PCSO to the seven bishops, including Quevedo, were given during the time of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
"We honestly failed to consider the pitfalls to which these grants could possibly lead," he said, adding that the bishops are prepared to face the consequences if they have been found to have violated any law.
Five more bishops who were cited in the 2009 COA report as recipients of PCSO funds were also present at the Senate hearing. They were Butuan Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos, who received a Mitsubishi Montero, Bontoc-Lagawe Bishop Rodolfo Beltran (Nissan Pathfinder), Abra Bishop Leopoldo Jaucian (Mitsubishi Strada) and Basilan Bishop Martin Jumoad (Mitsubishi Strada).
Zamboanga Archbishop Romulo Valles, who also received a Toyota Grandia Hi-Ace, was represented by Bishop David William Antonio.
Money from 'The Devil'
Pueblos, in his opening statement, admitted that sending a letter to then President Arroyo, where he asked for an SUV for his birthday, "was a lapse in judgment as to the propriety of the procurement of such vehicle."
He said he is "willing to accept responsibility of this personal action," but declined to admit that he did something wrong when he asked for a vehicle which he intends to use for "spiritual and social services."
Pueblos said that "after prayerful discernment" he has decided to return the vehicle to the PCSO.
At the grilling of Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, Pueblos said that he may be willing to accept money "from the devil" if it would be used for the welfare of his flock in Butuan.
"I do believe that there is a possibility... I'd rather discern on it than accept it at once [from the devil]," Pueblos said.
Meanwhile, Pueblos admitted that he used the Mitsubishi Montero for some religious purposes, particularly as service for prelates giving catechism lessons to poor communities in far-flung areas.
'Pajero 7'
Senators also grilled PCSO Chairman Margie Juico on how the tag "Pajero 7" came about since no Mitsubishi Pajeros were given to the seven bishops.
Juico denied that the "Pajero" term came from her, and told senators that it could have come from an anonymous PCSO employee who was interviewed by journalists.
Several newspapers and online news sites have been describing the seven bishops as the "Pajero 7," indicating that they all received Pajero from the PCSO.
The seven bishops were later called the "SUV-shops" and "Mitsubishops."
Juico said that she had repeatedly made clarifications that there were no Pajeros donated to the Catholic Church.
Bishops can sleep well
Sen. Teofisto Guingona, chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, said in an interview after the hearing that there may be no need to call bishops again to attend the inquiry.
“I suppose so,” Guingona said when asked if he think the bishop can already sleep tight against without worrying to be called to the hearings again.
He said that based on the statements of the bishops, the vehicles donated by the PCSO were used in secular activities, which he said is not a violation of the law.
However, he said that using vehicle donations from PCSO may be a “litmus test to the Constitution” since it prohibits the government from giving out donations that may be used to favor a religious sector.
“Sa nakita namin, walang mali sa paggamit ng sasakyan sapagkat lahat nagsabi na ginamit nila para sa secular (There was nothing wrong with how the vehicles were used because all of [the bishops] said they used the vehicles for secular [activities]),” Guingona said.
The bishops were also absolved by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile who said that if ever there was fault in the vehicle donations to the bishops, it should be blamed on the old PCSO leadership.
“Walang nilabag na batas. Ang may responsibilidad diyan sa bagay na 'yan na pag-iingatan 'yung kaban ng bayan ay ang gobyerno (The bishops did not violate any law. The responsibility in taking care of the funds is the government),” Enrile said.
Both senators said that what was achieved in today’s hearing was the closure on the type of vehicles given to the bishops.
Enrile said that the bishops “were unfairly accused of receiving expensive vehicles which was rather incorrect.”

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