MANILA, July 13, 2011â€” Catholic bishops who received money from a state-run lottery to buy sports utility vehicles during the Arroyo administration have returned the cars to the government.
The seven bishops did so, during a senate inquiry Wednesday, although underscoring that the vehicles have not been for personal use but for Church-operated missions.
The three prelates from Luzon brought their vehicles to the senate and returned them to the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) right there.
Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo said those in Mindanao, including the one for his archdiocese, are ready for immediate turnover to any authorized PCSO office.
â€œâ€¦Regardless of whether the acquisition of the vehicles has been lawful or unlawful, constitutional or unconstitutional, we are returning the vehicles,â€ they said in a joint statement read by Quevedo.
Six of the seven bishops involved in the controversy faced the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee currently investigating the so-called PCSO fund mess.
Aside from Quevedo, they are Zamboanga Archbishop Romulo Valles, Bishops Rodolfo Beltran of Bontoc-Lagawe, Leopoldo Jaucian of Abra, Juan de Dios Pueblos of Butuan, and Martin Jumoad of Basilan.
Nueva Segovia Archbishop Ernesto Salgado who is currently out of the country was represented by his auxiliary bishop David William Antonio.
The bishops decided to return the cars after recent media scrutiny and amid allegations of the present PCSO board that they accepted them from Arroyo in exchange for their political patronage.
The prelates reiterated that the vehicles were used for their social projects and they are â€œgratefulâ€ for the help given to them.
â€œWe 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,â€ they said.
â€œWe still believe that we have not violated any law, or even the Constitution,â€ according to the bishops.
Lack of resources
The church officials told the Senate body that they are from provinces that have some of â€œthe most difficult areasâ€ that they, as prelates, have to reach.
â€œMost of us are from calamity or conflict-stricken areas. We serve communities some of which are the poorest of the poor. Our vocation is to help them in so far as we can with our resources,â€ they said.
â€œWhen 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.â€
â€œSome of us received service vehicles from PCSO that are heavy duty 4 x 4 pick-ups in order for our social, health, and charitable services to reach remote areas. Others received vehicles that have multiple purposes of bringing indigent sick people to hospitals or distribute food, medicines, and clothing to calamity stricken families,â€ they added.
The Catholic Bishopsâ€™ Conference of the Philippines on Monday expressed remorse for failing â€œto consider the pitfalls to which these grants could possibly lead.â€
Arroyo, now a Congresswoman, allegedly gave the vehicles through the agency during a time when she was facing a threat of removal from the presidency due to accusations of corruption.
PCSO officials said an audit showed that P6.9 million in charity funds were used to buy vehicles upon the request of some bishops.
The agency added that using its fund for promotion of a specific religion is also unconstitutional citing the law on separation of Church and State.
List of vehicles
In a letter earlier submitted by the CBCP to the senate, attached was a list of vehicles all purchased in 2009 by seven dioceses using funding from the PCSO.
The Diocese of Bangued in Abra bought a Mitsubishi Strada pick-up worth P1.107 million in 2009 for â€œtransport personnel and carry needed materials for service missions to the poor and needy.â€
The Archdiocese of Cotabato got a Toyota Grandia Hi-Ace van worth P1.4 million, for its social action apostolate, like the distribution of â€œmedicines and other relief goods to disaster-hit areas in the diocese.â€
The Diocese of Isabela in the war-stricken province of Basilan also bought a Strada pick-up worth P1.225 million for its social action programs.
The Archdiocese of Zamboanga also bought a Grandia van worth P1.518 million on, also for â€œmedical-related services.â€
An Isuzu Crosswind utility van worth P720, 000, meanwhile, was received by the Caritas Nueva Segovia for its â€œhealth, dental and medical outreach programs.â€
Pueblosâ€™ personal request for a Montero included an explanation that it would be used for his â€œspiritual and social services to the people.â€
The Diocese of Bontoc-Lagawe also bought a second-hand Nissan Pathfinder and an L-300 van from PCSO donation. [Roy Lagarde/CBCPNews]