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Senators wonder where the 'pajero' spin began

MANILA, July 13, 2011 - Senator Jinggoy Estrada and his colleagues wondered where the term "Pajero bishops" began as the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee failed to see such vehicles donated by the PCSO to seven ecclesial provinces in the Philippines.

Even PCSO chair Margarita Juico failed to muster a credible explanation to the Senate panel led by Chairman TG Guingona, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, Senator Panfilo Lacson and former Senate President Franklin Drilon.

Cotabato Archbishop Orlando B. Quevedo, Zamboanga Bishop Romulo Valles, Bishops Martin Jumoad of Isabela de Basilan, Juan De Dios Pueblos of Butuan, Leopoldo Jaucian of Bangued, Rodolfo Beltran of Bontoc-Lagawe and Nueva Segovia Auxiliary Bishop-elect David William Antonio attended the senate inquiry. Bishop Antonio represented Nueva Segovia Archbishop Ernesto Salgado who was abroad.

The bishops collectively stated the purpose of their solicitation was to address the people's medical and social needs. While they sought understanding from the general public for their perceived wrongdoing, they also told the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee of their collective decision to return the vehicles to PCSO.

In their opening statement, Archbishop Quevedo said they are thankful for the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee's invitation for them to shed light on "an issue that has deeply saddened not only the seven of us but all the Catholic faithful."

"We are from provinces that have some of the most difficult areas that we as Bishops have to reach," he explained. He added most of them come from calamity or conflict-stricken areas and serve communities where the poorest of the poor could be found.

He explained their vocation is to help the poor as their resources would allow.

"When we lack resources, we seek the assistance of others, especially from those whose mandate is to provide assistance, particularly in health services and in charity," he further said.

He admitted some of them received service vehicles which are heavy duty pick-ups for the bishops' "social, health and charitable services to reach remote areas."

He added others used the vehicles for multiple purpose including ferrying the sick to hospitals, distribute food, medicines and clothing to calamity stricken areas.

The bishops expressed appreciation for the assistance extended to them but maintained they did not violate any law, much more the country's Constitution.

"We express our sadness that our sincere desire to help people and receive necessary assistance for doing so has confused, disturbed and even scandalized many of the Catholic faithful," Archbishop Quevedo added.

He candidly said they "failed to consider the pitfalls to which these grants could possibly lead."

"For this reason, regardless of whether the acquisition of the vehicles has been lawful or unlawful, constitutional or unconstitutional, we are returning the vehicles," he said.

Quevedo said the bishops from Luzon have brought their vehicles to the Senate for the turn-over either to the PCSO or Senate Blue Ribbon Committee.

"The bishops from Mindanao will turn-over their vehicles to any authorized PCSO official nearest their area," he added.

Cebu Archbishop Ricardo J. Cardinal Vidal, CBCP President and Tandag Bishop Nereo Odchimar, incoming CBCP President Jose Palma, Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, Antipolo Bishop Gabriel Reyes, Batanes Bishop Camilo Gregorio, Taytay Bishop Edgardo Juanich and Manila Auxiliary Bishop Bernardino Cortes also attended the hearing and provided moral support to their seven colleagues.

Cardinal Vidal bows out of Bishops' Concerns Commission

Cebu Archbishop Ricardo J. Cardinal Vidal said he is grateful to God the inquiry was over.

He said he is more than happy because it has reached its rightful end.

"I look at today's hearing as a closure (to the controversy it has generated)," said Cardinal Vidal, chair of the CBCP Episcopal Commission on Bishops' Concerns, whose term would end on December 1 this year.

The retired prelate said he hopes the PCSO under the leadership of Margie Juico would be able to acknowledge their mistake.

Asked of his message to his successor as chair of the Committee on Bishops' Concerns, Cotabato Archbishop Orlando B. Quevedo, Cardinal Vidal said he should be able to continue the work and attend to the bishops' concerns whatever there may be.

He said he is happy he will end his leadership of the commission and he's got no more load to bear. (Melo M. Acuna, CBCP News)