MANILA, Philippines - Retired Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz confirmed Friday that some Filipino Catholic bishops received monetary aid and luxury vehicles from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) during the Arroyo administration.
In an interview, Cruz called on the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) to take action and investigate reports that some bishops received money and even Mitsubishi Pajeros from the government.
Asked if the donations, which were allegedly coursed through the Office of Religious Affairs, are bribes, he said: "I would not want to make that immediate judgment. Alam ko talagang merong namimigay nung time ni GMA [dahil] gusto talaga niyang makakuha ng kakampi sa mga pari. Alam po natin na malakas ang utang na loob ng mga Pilipino."
PCSO chairwoman Margarita Juico earlier revealed that former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo allegedly used PCSO funds to get support from the Church. She said Arroyo, who is now a Pampanga representative, had given 7 Mitsubishi Pajeros to bishops.
A 2009 Commission on Audit report also 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.
Cruz said he is willing to testify in the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee inquiry on the alleged PCSO donations but said he will not be able to provide more details.
He noted that the matter should be tackled by CBCP and even elevated to the Congregations of Bishops in the Vatican since it affects the credibility of the Church.
"Ang gusto ko sana – lahat tayo ay nagkakamali pero sakali ngang nagkamali yung mga obispo na nagkamali ay dapat bigyan ng penance. Ang penance ay censure or sanction. Ang mga obispo kasi hindi pwede CBCP ang magbibigay ng sanction," he told abs-cbnNEWS.com.
He also noted that the CBCP had already issued a collective statement that they will not receive money from gambling, whether legal or illegal.
"Ang sabi ko lamang – bakit tayo humihingi ng tulong sa pamahalaan e pwede naman tayo kumuha sa iba? Marami naman akong nagawang proyekto at ni kusing hindi ako kumuha sa gobyerno. Sabihin na natin ako ay masyadong strikto at iba ay mas malawak ang pananaw. Siguro magkaiba lang kami ng pananaw," he said.
Quevedo defends PCSO donations
For his part, Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo said many Catholic institutions have long been asking for financial aid from the state-owned lottery agency for their social projects. He said the practice can be traced from the time of the late President Corazon Aquino.
Quevedo said the PCSO donations are intended for social services, poverty alleviation and socio-economic development. To the list, he added requests for PCSO’s help for medical treatment of those in extreme need and cannot afford the cost because of poverty.
He said even the late Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin received help from PCSO for his projects for the poor.
“Even if bishops might have collectively decided that no donation from legal and illegal gambling should be solicited or accepted, it would seem that this is not universally followed, given the case of social services for the poor cited above,” Quevedo said in a CBCP News report.
“There is also the added consideration that according to moral theology gambling is not immoral per se, but only immoral depending on the circumstances,” he added.
Quevedo, Butuan Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos and two other priests were identified by the PCSO as recipients of luxury vehicles for their personal use.
Quevedo, however, strongly denied the allegations and urged the lottery agency to prove its claim.
He also believed that there is a plot from the present administration to discredit the Church for criticizing the Aquino administration on several issues.
“I would like to reiterate: I have never requested or received from the PCSO any vehicle for my personal use, whether Pajero or any other kind. The two vehicles I use are foreign Catholic grants,” he said. With a report from CBCPNews