MANILA, Philippines - Allies of former President Arroyo on Monday denied any wrongdoing in connection with funding support from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO).
In a statement e-mailed to media, Camarines Sur Rep. Diosdado Ignacio “Dato” Macapagal Arroyo, son of the former President, denied being the recipient of donations from the PCSO. “To set the record straight, I never held any funds, items, or vehicles coming from the PCSO," he said.
Dato said he merely endorsed requests for assistance with the PCSO, and that any assistance went straight to the intended beneficiaries.
“I merely endorsed requests from my constituents for ambulances to the PCSO. Any assistance from PCSO to Bicol Medical Center went straight to the BMC and did not pass through me or my office. Any assistance from PCSO to the LGUs and District Hospitals went straight to the LGUs and district hospitals (district hospitals are under the control of the provincial government) and did not pass through me or my office," he said.
Dato said he sees nothing wrong with the PCSO’s donations.
“The donation of ambulances to local governments by the PCSO is part of its mandate as a charitable institution, and if the present officials of the PCSO can cite any law that was violated by the said donation they should instead bring their case to the proper forum and not through media," he said.
In separate interviews, Minority Leader Edcel Lagman and Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez likewise denied any wrongdoing.
Lagman said he never got or asked for anything from the PCSO and asked the agency to rectify the report.
“Hindi ako humingi. Wala akong natanggap na PCSO ambulance for my personal or exclusive use. Wala akong (PCSO) ambulance for my personal, official disposal. I challenge (PCSO) management to produce any document na nakasaad dun ako tumanggap ng ambulansiya galing PCSO…Kaya palagay ko may gumamit ng pangalan ko or mali ang record ng PCSO.”
Suarez confirmed receiving assistance from the PCSO but maintained there was nothing irregular about it. He added that more ambulances are needed to replace ones that need replacement.
“I don’t know why these ambulances nagiging issue. Yung pera ng ospital diretso dineposito sa ospital. Di binibigay sa congressman at siya nagbibigay ng donations…Di lang iyan sa distrito ko o sa lalawigan ng Quezon…kaya nga charity eh nagiging conduit kami sa pagbibigay. It’s a puzzle kung bakit nagiging issue," he said.
"Alam mo iyang ambulansiya makapagligtas ng buhay iyan ng isang pasyente lalo na sa malalayong lugar. Malaking tulong. Gusto ko lang ipaalam sa televiewers palagay ko sa dinami-dami ng pangulo ng bansa, walang tatalo sa dami ng ambulansiya napamigay ng Pangulong Gloria," he added.
Former Speaker Propsero Nograles confirmed his district got aid from the PCSO but also saw nothing irregular. “Yes, it is true that the PCSO donated 2 ambulances to my district but it is not true that this was done because of my perceived closeness with the Arroyo administration. It is also false to claim that the PCSO ambulances were donated for my personal and political benefit," he said.
Nograles further clarified that he only facilitated the request for the ambulance donations and, in fact, the vehicles were not even turned over by the PCSO directly to his office. He said the ambulances were directly turned over by the PCSO to Davao Medical Center and the Emergency 911 project of Davao City.
'Even Arroyo critics got PCSO help'
Nograles said that contrary to claims by the present PCSO management headed by PCSO Chair Margie Juico, the ambulances and other PCSO donations and endowments were made as political rewards to Arroyo allies, records will show that even members of the opposition benefited from PCSO's medical and hospitalization assistance program during the past administration.
Nograles cited the cases of former Pampanga Gov. Eduardo “ Among” Panlilio who got 5 ambulances and Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, whom the PCSO claimed to gave gotten P5 million worth of endowments from P2007 to 2010.
“This is very irresponsible and reckless allegation. I wonder if the PCSO even studied the facts first before making this PR stunt because apparently they are unaware that Panlilio and Rodriguez were among the most vocal critics of then President Gloria Arroyo,” Nograles said.
Dato, Lagman and Suarez questioned the manner of the PCSO’s revelations, coming as it did amid stinging criticism from their bloc in Congress on the first year record of the Aquino administration.
“I vehemently protest the manner by which the story portrayed us as the villains and I urge PCSO General Manager Ferdinand Rojas II to be more circumspect in dealing with the issue. I support any congressional investigation to separate fact from fiction, to stop being demonized in media for doing our congressional duties," the Camarines Sur congressman said.
'Politics behind PCSO revelations'
Lagman also saw something more sinister in the manner of the revelation by the PCSO. “Ito’y palagay ko part 'to ng agenda of fault-finding and vindictiveness na ginagawa ng kasalukuyang administrasyon. Tama na ang isang taon kung merong may kasalanan, dalhin na sa husgado. Tama na pagbabatikos ng anomalies at dapat may basehan. It should be warranted," he said.
Suarez sees something more personal, noting that his political rivals have seats in PCSO.
PCSO Board Member Aleta Tolentino’s partner was challenged by Suarez’s son in the last gubernatorial elections in Quezon. Another Suarez rival from Quezon, Betty Nantes, wife of the late governor Rafael Nantes, is also a board member.
“I'm thinking wag naman sana dahil sa kalaban sa pulitika ang 2 direktor. Baka naman baka anything basta sa dating pangulong issue eh ilalabas at reason banner program is how bad is the administration, gusto nila palabasin masama admin ng dating pangulo. Maybe that’s one reason," Suarez said.
He added that the revelations might be a smokescreen to divert people's attention from the nation's problems.
Lagman said many of the congressmen who allegedly received PCSO aid have left their fold and are no longer Arroyo allies. “I think ang ginagawa nila kahit kaalyado ka nuon o ngayon basta merong kaugnayan sa nakaraang admin nilalabas nila...Ang tingin ko kailangan tignan ano ginagawa ng PCSO. Ito ba ginagawa nila mandato pursuant to creation of PCSO o paglalait sa nakaraang administrasyon?" he asked.
Suarez: They didn't ask GMA for ambulances
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, who first exposed the PCSO revelations in a privilege speech in May, weighed in on the issue.
“President Arroyo withheld [Priority Development Assistance Fund] against congressmen supporting the impeachment while generously giving funds to allies who support her. The PCSO should not have given such large amount of funds as this not only smacks with favoritism but the obscenely large amounts also does not speak well of legislative independence," he said.
"The use of PDAF or public funds as largesse to influence Congress must stop. The millions look more obscene when I remember the death of a constituent for the failure of PCSO to help her despite my plea for financial assistance in 2009. This discrimination was one of the reasons for my privilege speech on PCSO anomalies last May, and I hope this investigation will put a stop to this discrimination and favoritism," he added.
But Suarez denied they were a favored few. "Siguro dahil humihingi ako sa Pangulo, knowing the president how generous she was, baka di sila humihingi. Di naman manghuhula ang PCSO.”
Suarez also said that congressmen are not compelled to shoulder 40% of the cost of the ambulances, saying it is merely a sweetener for LGUs. “Not a policy but an attraction na para magaanggang sa bulsa ng munisipyo."
Lagman also added: “Yan ay tulong sa mga indigent na patiente, at actually ang polisya ay binibigay itong PCSO ambulance sa mga local government unit at yung kontrata ay between LGUs and PCSO. Hindi naman pinapadaan sa congressman or congresswomen. Bakit nila didnidin sa report lumalabas itong mga ambulansiyang itoy para sa personal use of members of Congress?”
Minority also wants probe
Dato, Lagman and Suarez and Nograles have all called for a probe on all allegations on the PCSO.
Suarez said: “100% cooperation. Wala naman dapat ipagkaila or itago kung gusto imbestigahin. Tama lang dapat gawin.”
Lagman said: “Palagay ko, let the Office of the President commission an independent investigation ng lahat ng nilalabas ng PCSO tungkol sa Pajero (at) cash gift ng obispo. Di pwedeng lahatin. Maraming members ng Catholic bishops of the Philippines. Kaunti lang invited.”
Dato said: “I support any congressional investigation to separate fact from fiction to stop being demonized in media for doing our congressional duties.”
Nograles said: “By all means, Congress should investigate this matter so that we can really get to the bottom of PCSO's allegations. This can even be an opportunity for Congress, really re-study the agency's charter."
For her part, Zambales Rep. Mitos Magsaysay said they already filed a resolution to investigate the PCSO anomalies both under the past and present administrations.
“These issues will be threshed out in a committee. It's unfair to say majority are in minority, only 2 are. Dato and Suarez. The rest are allies of the administration," she said.
Magsaysay maintained they will not tolerate wrongdoings in their ranks. “Kami sa House di naman kami all boys club," she said.