MANILA, Philippines - The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has finally issued a statement defending the bishops who received money from the government to buy brand new vehicles during the Arroyo administration.
In a letter to the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee investigating the alleged irregularity, the CBCP claimed that its bishops do not use public funds for personal reasons.
It added that bishops merely hold and supervise the donations from government agencies for the use of dioceses.
"Our conscience is clear," the CBCP said.
The CBCP, however, added that it is ready to face the consequences for receiving funds from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) if the practice is deemed illegal.
Legislators have pointed out that the law bans the use of public funds to benefit any specific religious group.
The PCSO, which manages state-owned lottery and gambling operations in the country, has identified the bishops who requested vehicles from the agency.
PCSO chairperson Margie Juico said those who allegedly received PCSO funds to buy new vehicles are: Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo, Zamboanga Archbishop Romulo Valles, Basilan Bishop Martin Jumoad, and Butuan Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos.
The diocese of Abra and the vicariates of Bontoc and Lagawa in Ifugao received a still undetermined number of vehicles on the request of Archbishop Quevedo, she added.
Juico said Father Adriano Ruiz got a Toyota Grandia through Archbishop Valles.
Bishop Jumoad received a Mitsubishi Strada, Bishop de Dios Pueblos got a Montero Sport, and the Archdiocese of Caritas Nueva Segovia in Ilocos Sur got an Isuzu Crosswind.
Archbishop Fernando Capalla also allegedly requested an Isuzu Alterra for Father Roger Lood of Iligan City but it was not released.
"Itong mga vehicles na galing sa charity fund... maaaring questionable dahil ang PCSO, hindi nagdo-donate ng luxury vehicle," Juico said.
During the same hearing, PCSO general manager Joy Rojas said the agency has an outstanding balance of P3 billion in unpaid hospital bills incurred during the term of then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
He added that former executives of the PCSO overspent on operating and charity funds.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, meanwhile, denied allegations on Wednesday that the PCSO's action against Catholic officials is part of a ploy to get the church to soften its stance against the responsible parenthood bill.
"That is totally baseless. We didn't even know about the COA (Commission on Audit) report until they revealed it," he said.
"Whatever action PCSO is taking, it's part of the program of good governance. Lahat ng sangay ng government, naghahanap ng natirang problema. Isa ito sa natirang problema," Lacierda explained. - Reports from ANC