Thursday, July 14, 2011

Attack on the bishops backfires

MANILA, July 14, 2011—Seven bishops from the country’s poorest dioceses told the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee Wednesday the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) had given them vehicles to service the poor, the sick, the dying, and displaced victims of conflict and calamities, but these were old, second-hand pickup trucks, and not luxurious Pajeros, as alleged by the new PCSO head Margarita Juico and her media allies who had maliciously labeled them “the Pajero bishops.”
It became plain that there was absolutely no basis to the propaganda scandal generated by the PCSO head, some hip-shooting senators and the anti-Church media against the poor bishops. But because of the “pain and sorrow and scandal” it had caused the Catholic faithful and the entire episcopate, Archbishop Orlando Quevedo of Kidapawan, Cotabato told the committee on behalf of the seven that they had decided to return the vehicles, whether their acquisition was constitutional and legal or not.
“The vehicles from Luzon are now ready for turnover in front of the Senate building, even as I speak,” said Quevedo, “while those from Mindanao are awaiting turnover to an authorized PCSO representative.”
The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) had earlier expressed profound sorrow over the incident. Quevedo read the CBCP statement, signed by CBCP President Nereo P. Odchimar, Bishop of Tandag, to the Committee, before reading the statement of the seven, and his own.
Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto tried to ask the bishops to reconsider, saying that if he had any say on the matter he would object to it. But Quevedo said “mistrust” had entered their relationship with the PCSO, and they must now review the parameters of that relationship. Their decision had the imprimatur of the CBCP and a “prophetic” motive, Quevedo said.
Who invented the phrase “Pajero bishops”?
The question was asked, but no one could tell the Committee. The Commission on Audit (COA) report, part of which COA Commissioner Heidi Mendoza read into the record, does not mention any Pajero nor name any bishop who had received one.
Juico, to whom the phrase “Pajero bishops” had been attributed, said she had tried to correct the error in several interviews. But she gave no proof of her alleged effort, and the slander was never withdrawn. The media never bothered to verify, and have not said sorry for their irresponsible and harmful conduct.
A usually reliable newspaper source has disclosed that Juico had dinner with the editorial staff of one anti-Church newspaper a week or so before the propaganda attack on the bishops started. They reportedly agreed “to teach the bishops a lesson” for campaigning vehemently against the reproductive health (RH) bill, which the newspaper, Juico, her bosses and a well-funded foreign lobby are vigorously trying to push through Congress.
They wanted to stop the switch of support from the pro-RH and “undecided” camps to the anti-RH camp by bringing down the moral standing of the bishops, the source said. Not long after the dinner, the newspaper began running editorially slanted “news stories” under big headlines about the “Pajero bishops”.
“I’m so sorry for whatever this may have caused these bishops,” Juico said, with no manifest contrition or penance.
Asked about it after the hearing, Quevedo said Christianity teaches the faithful to forgive and pray for one’s persecutors and enemies. But there was a spontaneous call from the laity for Juico’s resignation, along with her entire board. An instant groundswell developed as text-messaging against Juico spread from Manila to the other cities and countryside.
Not only did Juico try to put the bishops in a bad light, Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada said; she tried to damage the name and dignity of the entire Church, some lay leaders pointed out.
Yet unexamined is the role played by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee under Senator Teofisto Guingona III.
Guingona apparently decided to investigate the bishops at Juico’s behest, without reading the constitutional provision they were supposed to have violated. He even reportedly visited Juico at PCSO prior to the hearings, in violation of established ethical norms.
Both Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago said the donation to the bishops did not violate the Constitution. But if indeed the Constitution has been violated, Enrile pointed out, the charity agency alone, and not the recipient would be accountable for it.
In a proper inquiry, the onus should have been on PCSO, not on the bishops. But Juico’s intent, supported by her media allies, was facilitated by Guingona’s inept reading of the Constitution.
What does the Constitution say?
The Constitution provides for the separation of Church and State. This simply means the Church shall not run the affairs of the State, and the State shall not administer the sacraments or pronounce a religious or moral doctrine of its own. But this is usually not understood by many politicians and media commentators, who seem to think the State has the right to run the reproductive and intimate family lives of its citizens.
The Constitution also bars the use of public money or property for the support of any sect, church, denomination, sectarian institution or system of religion, or any priest, preacher, minister or other religious teacher or dignitary as such, except when the person concerned is assigned to the armed forces, a penal institution, government orphanage or leprosarium. But the law has made it clear that what it is controlling here is the use to which public money or property is put even if donated to a church or mosque, imam or priest.
Now, PCSO is a charity organization. Its mandate is to “provide funds for health programs, medical assistance and services and charities of national character.” Every diocese on the other hand has a social action or charity program. This requires the bishop to provide the funds and all other means to carry out charity work to the farthest ends of his diocese. This was confirmed by each of the seven bishops.
As no religious test is associated with any PCSO donation, no bishop, priest or imam is barred from seeking such assistance. And they do. Does that offend the separation of Church and State? Jurisprudence says it does not. But assuming, for the sake of argument, that it does, the PCSO alone, as Enrile pointed out, should be held to account for it, not the recipient.
Yet some senators, including the committee chair, and members of the anti-Church media were quick to put the burden on the bishops, as though they had a hand in disbursing to themselves what they had simply asked for. That allowed Juico and her propaganda crew to carry out their demolition job, while creating a distraction from the real issues against the PCSO.
The committee, before it adjourns, could start asking the following questions:
1. From 2001 to 2010, two presidential elections and four senatorial elections were held. How much did PCSO spend on political ads and media contracts for its favored candidates? Who were those candidates? How much did each one get? How were these “donations” justified and liquidated?
2. The PNP, according to news reports, has managed to maintain 22 PCSO accounts. How much money went into these, and under what provision of the Constitution or law was this made possible?
3. The PCSO ad manager was reported to have made a big pile from illegitimate and highly inflated commissions from his ad placements. Were the ads about PCSO alone? Or did they include ads and media contracts for PCSO-supported candidates in the last four elections? Was the ad manager operating alone, or was he working with or for a group? A former PCSO board member says that at one time an P80 million-check was delivered to the spouse of a board member. Can the said individual be asked to shed light on this?
4. The PCSO budget grew from about P7 billion in 2001 to P20 billion or so in 2010. Fifty-five (55) percent of this went to prizes; 30% to charity; and 15% to operations. Were all the prizes won and claimed by actual winners? There are allegations to the contrary. What was the total magnitude of unclaimed prizes, and what happened to them? The public deserves to be told.
5. PCSO claims to have released P20 million “blood money” to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to buy the freedom of a Filipino death convict abroad. But Foreign Undersecretary Esteban Conejos has testified that the DFA received a check for P15 million only. Where did the P5 million go? Somebody apparently took it in broad daylight.
6. Sen. Santiago says PCSO officials deposited P1.5 billion of its funds in a private bank, without the necessary authority. Who benefited from this, and how much was the take? Was this the only transaction of its kind?
Not all the questions can be asked in this space. But the committee should exert all efforts to exhaust the issues. And none of this should prevent President Aquino from naming a new PCSO board to replace the present one. (Francisco S. Tatad)

One of CBCP’s newest prelates reflects on Senate appearance

MANILA, July 14, 2011—Relatively unknown to most radio and television audience who remained glued to the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing yesterday, the youngest of the bishops called to shed light on the Margie Juico expose, is one of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines’ latest addition to its rosters.
Clad in his light-gray polo barong, the 47-year old Auxiliary Bishop-elect David William Valencia Antonio of Nueva Segovia was instructed by Archbishop Ernesto Salgado to represent him as the senators conducted their inquiry into the so-called “Pajero bishops.” The 74-year old archbishop has been abroad for a couple of weeks and failed to make it to the hearing.
Interviewed by CBCPNews, Antonio said he thinks his appearance at the Senate hearing was “part of the job” and “portent of things to come.”
He said as an auxiliary bishop he believes he has to be ready to give witness to the truth and the faith or whatever the Church teaches.
“I must also be courageous,” he hastened to add.
The new bishop said he felt bad when he learned that the archdiocese received a Pajero from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office because it is not true.
The archdiocese is quietly serving the poor, Antonio said, and to be faulted for something that is far from the truth really hurts.
The new bishop believed there was some closure achieved in yesterday’s hearing because they were able to prove the accusations were wrong and sent the message to the world that the information fed by media “who were obviously against the Catholic church, were not that accurate.”
Antonio was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Nueva Segovia last June 15, 2011 and will be ordained Bishop on August 26, 2011 in Vigan.
Two other prelates were appointed by the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI last June 15. Laoag Bishop Sergio Lasam Utleg was named Archbishop of Tuguegarao and Msgr. Jose Salmorin Bantolo as Bishop of Masbate. (Melo M. Acuna)

After PCSO controversy, Church brings back fight vs RH bill

MANILA, July 14, 2011—And the fight against the reproductive health (RH) bill continues.
Now that Senate has cleared the seven Catholic bishops from the PCSO controversy, the Church will bring back its focus in fighting the birth control measure.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said several activities are lined up in the Church’s campaign against the proposed reproductive health (RH) bill.
“The fight against the RH bill continues,” said Figura, CBCP secretary general.
He said preparations are being made for the July 25 Humanae Vitae’s 43rd year, the landmark encyclical by Pope Paul VI that deals with the Church’s uncompromising stand on birth control.
But since the date fall on the State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President Benigno Aquino III, the celebration will be held in advance.
“We’ll be doing activities a week before that just to stay away from the SONA,” said Figura.
Aside from Humanae Vitae, the Church is also marking the 20th anniversary of Familiaris Consortio (The Role of Christian family), an apostolic exhortation written by Pope John Paul II.
The document describes the church’s position concerning the meaning and role of marriage and the family, and outlines challenges towards realizing that ideal.
The apostolic exhortation also defines marriage "as a personal union in which the spouses reciprocally give and receive."
The document restates the opposition to artificial birth control stated earlier in Humanae Vitae, and (briefly) mentions opposition to abortion.
During the bishops’ plenary assembly last week, Pope Benedict XVI urged them to continue protect the sanctity of life and marriage.
CBCP President and Tandag Bishop Nereo Odchimar earlier said that they will continue to speak out against the RH bill as this is their duty to the people.
“We are the last bastion standing against the RH bill, divorce and now there is also the possibility of same-sex marriage and we won’t be surprised if after that would come euthanasia,” he said. [CBCPNews]


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