Philippines Charity PCSO not singling out Catholic Church Corruption- Audit Exposé

Malacañang Palace, Manila -  reiterated that no one was above the law but clarified it was not singling out the Catholic Church with the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office’s exposé on bishops who allegedly received sport utility vehicles as donations from the agency.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte, however, said over radio dzRB that the bishops, despite being part of the religious sector, would not be immune from any criminal liabilities.

“Not only the Catholic Church, (but) for any religion, sect or denomination. The Constitution prohibits that (allotment of public funds to any religious sect or affiliation) because of the principle of separation of Church and state,” she said.

She cited Article 6 Section 29 (2) of the Constitution, which states 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.”

Valte said no one would be above the law in terms of criminal liability.

“Certainly if it’s a criminal offense, nobody is above the law and nobody is immune from suit,” she said.

Valte said it would be up to PCSO chief Margie Juico to take the necessary steps as regards the filing of cases against those allegedly involved in the anomalies discovered during the previous administration.

She said the allegations were based on the Commission on Audit report in 2008 and 2009 “so it’s not personal.”

“The money should not have been disbursed because it’s violative of the constitutional prohibition,” Valte said.

“Apparently from the face of that document, there were no donations made to other denominations at least for 2009,” she said.

Discrediting the Church

The president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), Tandag, Surigao del Sur Bishop Nereo Odchimar, said last Friday he was not discounting the possibility that the issue that some prelates accepted vehicles from PCSO was somehow linked to moves aimed at discrediting the Catholic Church.

“There may be some ploy to also discredit the Catholic Church. It’s a possibility,” he said.

Odchimar said the issue will be taken up during the plenary assembly scheduled next week.

He claimed not having any personal knowledge on the issue since the alleged requests for the delivery of vehicles were not coursed through the CBCP. The requests were reportedly directly made to the PCSO.

When asked if he would discuss the matter with Cotabato Archbishop and former CBCP president Orlando Quevedo and Butuan Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos, who were reported to have received vehicle donations from the PCSO, Odchimar said, “If they would be around, we would also be asking their positions.”

He said the CBCP does not have any authority to summon its member bishops.

Nothing unusual

Quevedo said in a statement that the practice of asking for PCSO assistance for social action is not unusual and has been going on since the time of former President Corazon Aquino.

“It has been reported that Cardinal Sin himself, in defense of the PCSO assistance given to him for his projects for the poor, said he would even accept money from the devil in order to help the poor. I myself would not hesitate to ask for PCSO assistance for a very poor individual who needs a costly medical operation but cannot afford it,” said Quevedo.

Odchimar urged the PCSO to validate its report since the implicated Catholic Church officials have denied that the vehicle donations by the government-run gambling institution were for personal use and not for social action programs.

“They (PCSO) should be accurate because names are being destroyed. It would rather be irresponsible to be implicating names. They were just made suspects,” he said.

Former CBCP president Fernando Capalla, on the other hand, challenged the PCSO to identify other religious organizations that are receiving financial aid.

No follower

Meantime, Quevedo recalled that some 10 years ago, the bishops in a plenary assembly made a collective decision not to solicit or accept donations from legal and illegal gambling.

“Such a decision was not universally followed. The needs of the poor in the minds of many people in the Church, bishops included, simply transcended such a decision. After all, the bishops also knew that gambling is not immoral per se. It becomes immoral because of circumstances,” he said.

‘Sa pari’ SAFARI vehicles

The issue on SUVs given to priests has rekindled an old joke in remote areas of Mindanao that the 4x4 vehicles going to the hinterlands are called “sa pari (owned by priests),” tribal leaders recalled yesterday.

It was an apparent pun on the four-wheel drive vehicle Safari, manufactured by Nissan.

Locals said the use by priests of these vehicles is not new particularly in far-flung areas where they hold Masses.

Aside from SUVs, priests are also known to use motorcycles called “habal habal.”

 

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