Share |

P-Noy amazed at bishops' demand for apology

President Aquino turns over door keys to 20 beneficiaries during the awarding of housing units to Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine National Police personnel in Lake Breeze Residences, Barangay Looc, Calamba City, Laguna yesterday. (From

MANILA Philippines (July 16, 2011) - Philippine President Benigno Aquino III finds it amazing that bishops are asking him and Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) Chair Margarita Juico to issue a public apology for dragging the Church into a scandal when some Catholic bishops were involved in controversial fund disbursements at the PCSO.

“It’s not clear why I should apologize to them,” Aquino said. “I’m ready to apologize if I did something wrong. But where did all these start?”

Talking to reporters in Calamba City, 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?”

“Hindi ho yata tama na kami pa ang mag-a-apologize (I think it’s not right that we’re the ones being asked to apologize),” Aquino said.

The President clarified his administration was not picking a fight with the Catholic Church, and that the bishops only demanded an apology because they were indignant.

“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.”

“Pasensya na po kayo ako po ay pinalaking Katoliko, pinalaki po akong gumalang sa nakakatanda sa akin. Karamihan po iyang obispo na iyan ay nakakatanda sa akin (I beg your pardon. I was raised a Catholic, and taught to respect elders),” Aquino told reporters when pressed for further comment.

“I know, you need more exciting news, like a confrontation with the bishops. But it’s not helping the country,” he told media.

He said the latest issue has not affected his administration’s cordial relations with the Church and that he is always willing to reach out to the bishops.

Back in 2009, at least 7 Catholic bishops requested from then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo heavy-duty vehicles for use in their dioceses and were issued checks from the charity funds of the PCSO to purchase said vehicles.

The Commission on Audit (COA) of the post-Arroyo presidency unearthed the questionable transactions and labeled them unconstitutional because the Philippine constitution prohibits disbursement of government funds to religious groups except in very specific circumstances.

The current chairperson of the PCSO Margarita Juico announced this to the media, mentioning that charity money meant to benefit the poor were used to purchase Pajeros. This was an error for which Juico would apologize later because the vehicles purchased were of various brands other than Pajero.

At a Senate hearing attended by the bishops, it was established that not one Pajero was purchased by the bishops. Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago also slammed the COA for labeling the donation to the bishops unconstitutional, stressing that only the Supreme Court can declare the unconstitutionality of an act. Taking the cue from Santiago and appearing impressed that no Pajero was purchased, Senators Tito Soto, Panfilo Lacson and Jinggoy Estrada urged the bishops to keep the donated vehicles.

The deferential treatment the senators accorded the bishops is widely criticized but the bishops took it as their exoneration from wrongdoing.

From previous apologetic stance, the bishops are now in attack mode.

“Now, it’s PCSO and President Aquino’s time to apologize to the people. After what they have done, (PCSO chair Margarita) Juico’s resignation is the best apology. Maybe the entire board of PCSO should resign. (President) Noynoy has failed,” said Cotabato Auxiliary Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo.

Bagaforo even took the high road, saying he forgave President Aquino already.

The bishops complain about some bishops being labeled "Pajero bishops" when in fact what they purchased were a Mitsubishi Montero and some other brand-new and second-hand pick-up vehicles with other brands.

Claiming that the accusations hurled by the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office at some bishops 'have apparently backfired,' Msgr. Juanito Figura, CBCP secretary general, said “I think it would be better that if they will apologize, it should be voluntary.”

Bishops Dinualdo Gutierrez of Marbel, Elenito Galido of Iligan, Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon and Jose Collin Bagaforo of Cotabato have demanded that not only Juico but President Aquino himself apologize to the bishops who according to them were wrongly accused.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) immediately distanced itself from the bishops' individual statements.

“The CBCP as a body has not made any such call or insinuated that such an apology is in order," said Msgr. Juanito Figura, CBCP secretary general. “These are personal statements of individual bishops, so I would not be able to speak on their behalf," he said.

Statement of supports for President Aquino and Juico came in promptly.

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

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

PCSO Director Aleta Tolentino who claims she is a devout Catholic lashed out at some “unscrupulous bishops,” comparing them to rust that she said would destroy the Church.

"Are they saying it is less scandalous if they received a Montero rather than a Pajero? Are they saying that?" asked Tolentino.

Tolentino accused the bishops of yielding to “bribery and temptation” during the Arroyo administration by accepting funds they later used to buy sport utility vehicles.

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

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.”

Citizens Battle Against Corruption Rep. Sherwin Tugna suggested that the four “bishops practice what they preach in the pulpit” which is forgiveness.

“Let bygones be bygones. The Bible also said blessed are those who understand and are forgiving. In forgiving, the bishops will also help unite the nation, instead of dividing it,” Tugna said.

Gabriela party-list Rep. Emmerenciana de Jesus said “the bishops’ call displayed height of arrogance.”

“Instead of showing the virtue of righteousness, they showed arrogance,” she said.

Gabriela Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan said the bishops were diverting the issue, which was their acceptance of expensive vehicles and donations from the PCSO even if these were not Pajeros.

Senators Alan Cayetano and Francis Pangilinan also do not see any reason for Aquino to apologize.

“I think an apology by President Aquino and Juico is unnecessary. There had been an admission that there was a lapse of judgment and they saw it fit to return the vehicles. Why then should PNoy and Juico apologize?” Pangilinan said.

Cayetano, for his part, appealed for more understanding from the bishops.

“If there was a reckless accusation, then there’s need to apologize,” Cayetano said.

Many bishops and their supporters, however, still choose to connect the recent attack on the Church’s credibility to its position against the controversial birth control measure, known as the reproductive health (RH) bill. (From