MANILA, Philippines - Butuan Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos wrote a letter to then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in February 2009 to ask for a brand new car for his 66th birthday.
He said he will use the vehicle to reach far-flung areas in the Caraga region.
"I hope you will never fail to give a brand new car which would serve as your birthday gift to me," Pueblos said in the letter.
"For your information, I have with me a seven-year-old car which is not anymore in good running condition. Therefore, this needs to be replaced very soon," he added.
Arroyo agreed and after 5 months, the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) gave Pueblos a check for P 1.7 million, which he used to buy a Mitsubishi Montero.
PCSO director Aleta Tolentino said Pueblos is one out of 7 bishops close to Arroyo who were given money to buy vehicles.
"Kay dami-daming mahihirap na tao, parang imoral po at kukuha kayo ng P1.7 million na sasakyan tapos sa parish niyo napakamaraming mahirap," she said.
Pueblos declined to be interviewed, but he admitted receiving the money to buy a Montero which, he says, he uses to reach poor communities.
Article 6, Section 29 of the Constitution bans the use of government funds for any sect, church, religion or priest except when they are assigned in the military, jail, government orphanage, or leprosarium.
However, former PCSO chair Manoling Morato sees nothing wrong with the issue.
"May decision ang Korte Suprema dyan, Estrada vs Escritor. There should be a benevolent neutrality, walang pader na naghihiwalay sa church and state," Morato said.
He added that it has long been the practice of presidents to help the church.
"Naaawa ako sa bishops, trial by publicity. Nalulungkot ako. [The] government we have now is mafioso, vindictive. Si Cory naman, katakot-takot ang tulong sa simbahan noon," he added.
House Minority Leader Edcel Lagman, meanwhile, said while it's not a crime for bishops to ask for funds from the PCSO, the act is immoral.
"The Catholic Church is way too rich to be a charity case and has more than sufficient resources to finance its charitable work without competing with countless indigent patients and legitimate charity beneficiaries," he added.
Meanwhile, Caloocan Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez supports a probe on his fellow bishops.
Iñiguez said this will allow the accused to air their side. - Report from Karen Davila, ABS-CBN News