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Bishops cite ‘mistrust’ with govt

MANILA, July 13, 2011— Sometimes saying sorry is all it takes to make people feel a little better.

That might have been the case with the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), if the apology had been made immediate and sincere.

But to the seven Catholic bishops who were implicated into the alleged fund mess in the agency during the Arroyo administration, it is too late and the damage has been done.

The bishops said the issue has brought shame not just on them but to the entire Catholic hierarchy but said they forgive the PCSO.

One of the so-called “Pajero bishops,” Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo said the Church can still collaborate with PCSO “but I think we shall be forced to change the rules for ourselves.”

“The environment has changed and I am sad to say that mistrust has been injected in that relationship,” said Quevedo, a former president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.

The bishops also turned down a proposal from the senators that they can keep the vehicles for their charity and relief work.

"We have a deeper and higher motive in mind in returning the vehicles. In the bishops' conference, the word prophetic was used if we return. We religious leaders understand that word, prophetic. That's the reason why we return. Thank you for listening to us. We hope we helped you discover the truth and aid in your legislation," he said.

They also reiterated that the vehicles they got from the PCSO were used for their various social action programs and not for their personal use.

At the Senate probe Wednesday, the senators grilled PCSO chair Margarita Juico for claiming that the prelates got luxurious Mitsubishi Pajeros from the agency even if they did not.

Speaking before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, Juico sung a different tune and tried to deny she made such allegations.

Some senators, however, quizzed Juico to the point that Sen. Jinggoy Estrada had to show some newspaper articles about the PCSO chief’s allegations.

In the reports, Juico even claimed the cars were given by former President Arroyo to the bishops for their political patronage at that time when she was facing ouster calls due to alleged corruption.

The PCSO also said that using its fund for promotion of a specific religion is also unconstitutional citing the law on separation of Church and State.

At least twice, the PCSO chief was booed by the audience from the Senate gallery after she failed to fully explain who from the PCSO claimed that the bishops acquired Pajero cars.

"Your honor at that time, I think the board did not have a copy yet of which vehicles were sent out. All we had was the COA (Commission on Audit) report," said Juico.

"You mean to say Mrs. Juico, that the present PCSO board invented that name Pajero just to put the bishops in bad light?" said Estrada.

"No, we never said Pajero. We were given this finding from COA that five vehicles costing P6.9 million granted to the Catholic Church were charged to the charity fund. The name Pajero did not come from us. It came about when somebody said it was Pajero," replied Juico.

Juico never stopped defending herself but later on apologized to the bishops for what happened.

"I'm so sorry for whatever it is we have caused the bishops here. I really don't know where that came from," she said.

Six of the seven bishops involved in the controversy faced the Senate committee.

Aside from Quevedo, the bishops included Archbishop Romulo Valles of Zamboanga, Bishops Rodolfo Beltran of Bontoc-Lagawe, Leopoldo Jaucian of Abra, Juan de Dios Pueblos of Butuan and Martin Jumoad of Basilan.

Archbishop Ernesto Salgado of Nueva Segovia, who is currently in the US, was represented by Auxiliary Bishop David William Antonio.

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago said the issue was a propaganda meant to cover up the 1.5 billion-peso illegal deposit of PCSO funds to a private bank.

"They are trying to cover up bigger multi-billion peso anomalies in the PCSO and PAGCOR, and they have conveniently found a scapegoat in the CBCP because, you know, it makes a sensational headline," said Santiago. [CBCPNews]