MANILA, Philippines - Former Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) chairman Manuel "Manoling" Morato believes there is nothing wrong with giving away sports utility vehicles (SUVs) to Catholic bishops and ambulances to local officials especially if they have no funds to buy them.
Speaking to ANC, Morato said the giving out of free ambulances to congressmen and governors was a management call by the former PCSO Board of Directors despite a PCSO policy that beneficiaries must shoulder at least 40% of the vehicle's price.
"There are some municipalities that are poor and we give it 100%. Now if there are cities and provincial areas that can afford, we go 50-50 or 60-40. That is not in the charter, that is only a policy. It can be a management call. In the charter, we should give it all free," he told ANC's "Dateline Philippines."
Morato denied that only former President Arroyo's allies were given ambulances during the previous administration.
He also noted that the PCSO recently gave 7 free ambulances to Sarangani Rep. Manny Pacquiao as payment for his services for a PCSO ad.
"They just recently gave Manny Pacquiao 7 ambulances. We are not complaining but what are they saying? Kasi gagawa daw ng commercial but why get a very expensive individual to make a commercial? Mahal yun pero nagbigay sila ng 7 ambulances," he said.
Asked if there was anything wrong about some congressmen getting more ambulances than others, he said: "That's alright. If they really need it, why not? Nagbabayad naman sila ng 40%. Ibinibigay naman nila sa very poor municipality. Dapat at no cost dahil kailangan. I don't know what we are quarreling about here. "
Morato also justified the distribution of utility vehicles to 4 Catholic bishops especially since they are being used for feeding missions. He said a special projects department granted the vehicles and monitors their use.
"Bakit nila minamasama yun? 4 lang ang nabigyan dun. Hindi naman namin binigyan ng Pajero. The headlines say Pajero daw ang binigay, to make it sound terrible that they are luxurious. Hindi eh. They are utility vehicles. We evaluated their needs and they report also where they are using it. Dumadaan sa SPD yan, the Special Projects Department. Hindi yan basta-basta binibigay rine-report where they are using it. They are supervised even after we have given them away," he said.
"The bishops are the ones who help the poor for their medical and mercy missions and feeding missions. They don't need Pajeros," he added.
PCSO chairwoman Margarita Juico earlier revealed that former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo allegedly used PCSO funds to get support from the Church.
A 2009 Commission on Audit report showed the PCSO gave P1.44 million to the Archdiocese of Cotabato for the purchase of a service vehicle, P1.5 million to the Zamboanga Archdiocesan Social Action Apostolate, P720,000 to Caritas Nueva Segovia, P1.125 million to the Roman Catholic Prelate of Isabela, Basilan, and P1.7 million to the Diocese of Butuan.
A Philippine Daily Inquirer report on Monday said a total of 314 ambulances, costing P1 million each, were given to congressmen and governors allied with former President Arroyo. Seventy-three percent of the ambulances were awarded at no cost to the officials despite PCSO policy that the beneficiaries should at least shoulder 40% of the vehicles' price.
The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee is set to investigate the alleged granting of PCSO funds to Catholic bishops and allies of former President Arroyo. Among those invited to the hearings this week are PCSO Chairman Margie Juico, PCSO General Manager Jose Ferdinand Rojas II, Board Members Betty Nantes, Maria Aleta Tolentino, Mabel Mamba, Francisco Joaquin III, Commission on Audit Chairwoman Gracia Pulido Tan, former PCSO Chairman Sergio Valencia, former PCSO GM Rosario Uriarte, and former Board Members Manuel Morato, Maria Fatima Valdes, Jose Taruc and Raymundo Roquero.
'Former board violated PCSO policy'
PCSO Board member Aleta Tolentino said former members of the PCSO Board could face charges of violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act for giving away the ambulances for free.
"The policy is for LGUS to give an equity of 40% and we'll have to verify why there was a deviation from the policy. If there is no justification, the former board of directors will be held responsible. If there is no valid justification, that is giving undue advantage to certain individuals or parties which should not be the case. The award of ambulances must be based on fair playing field," she said in a separate interview.
She said the new PCSO board is crafting new policies that will prioritize 4th, 5th and 6th municipalities in receiving PCSO ambulances.
She said PCSO is buying 1,000 ambulances within the year. "The requests are about 2,000 plus but there are some requests from individual baranagays, which we will try to cluster because we cannot provide for each barangay," she said.
Tolentino also questioned why some congressmen received the bulk of endowments from the PCSO while other lawmakers got very little. She said the new PCSO policy will limit endowments to private hospitals except if there is no public hospital in the area.
"In the past, there were politicians who were allotted endowment funds so they cornered the full endowment fund of P5 million. This time, we will no longer do that so that the full endowment fund, for example for Heart Center, will be used by all without specific endorsement from any politician. If the congressman will meet with constituents, they can easily endorse them to PCSO. To be sure, we will help them regardless of political affiliation," she said.
The PCSO official said the number of indigents who ask for the agency's help has ballooned from 400 to 700 people a day. She said the PCSO has also increased the individual medical assistance program from P4.5 million to P11 million a day.