MANILA, Philippines – Catholic bishops who are returning service vehicles donated by the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) must return the balance of the donation used to purchase the vehicles, Sen. Franklin Drilon said Tuesday.
In an interview, Drilon said the financial aid of PCSO will already be liquidated after the bishops return the vehicles.
Asked about the remaining balance, if any, from the PCSO donations, Drilon said: "There is still an obligation to liquidate the balance."
Drilon said the case of the 7 Catholic bishops who received money from PCSO to buy utility vehicles is closed in so far as the records of the agency are concerned,
He said under the Constitution, financial aid from the government cannot be used by a religious organization for religious purposes.
“Pero kung pagbigay ng pera ay for religious purposes, yan po ang bawal. At sa nakalipas na araw na ating tinatalakay ang isyu, eh wala pong ebidensya na ito ay ginamit para sa religious purposes,” he told dzMM’s Tambalang Failon at Webb.
He, however, said that any religious organization can still receive financial aid from the government as long as its purpose is for charity.
“Kung ang pagbigay ng pera sa simbahan ay for charity work, hindi po taliwas yan sa ating Saligang Batas,” he said.
He said in the case of the Catholic prelates, there is no direct evidence proving that they indeed used the vehicles for religious purposes such as going to remote areas to hold mass.
Drilon is referring to the Article 6, Section 29 of the Constitution, which states that no money shall be given in support of any sect, church, denomination, sectarian institution, or system of religion.
PCSO vouchers also showed that the vehicles received by the bishops were for charity use.
'Vehicle model not an issue'
Drilon added that the type of vehicles given to the prelates is also not an issue.
“Hindi [isyu] yung whether it is a Montero or a dilapidated pick-up. Ang isyu eh, eto ba ay ginamit upang tulungan ang simbahang Katoliko,” he said.
The issue, which the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee is investigating until now, is whether PCSO officials have properly liquidated the money used to purchase the SUVs.
During the hearing on Wednesday to discuss the PCSO fund mess, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago defended the bishops regarding the issue, saying they used the vehicles for the secular purpose of giving assistance to impoverished residents of remote communities.
The bishops have decided to return the vehicles to PCSO.