MANILA, Philippines - Catholic bishops who took gambling money or luxury vehicles from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office are guilty of committing a sin but are not criminally liable, House Minority Leader Edcel Lagman said Tuesday.
In a statement, Lagman said solicitation or acceptance by Catholic bishops of motor vehicle or cash gifts from the PCSO is not a crime per se "but is morally offensive."
"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," the minority lawmaker said.
Lagman pointed out there is no offense defined under the Revised Penal Code or any act punishable by special penal law which would criminalize the solicitation or acceptance by Catholic bishops of motor vehicles or cash donations from the PCSO.
He also said the Constitution has no implementing penal statute on "appropriating or utilizing public money or property for the use, benefit or support of any religion or clergy."
"Acts violative of the separation of Church and State are unconstitutional and can be nullified by the courts, but no penal sanctions can be imposed in the absence of a corresponding penal statute," he said.
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.
On the other hand, Lagman noted that under Section 8 of the PCSO Charter, any officer or employee of a charitable institution who uses funds obtained from PCSO for purposes other than those authorized under the law shall be punished by imprisonment of not less than one month and not more than three years.
He said any bishop who uses a motor vehicle or cash obtained from PCSO for non-charitable purposes is criminally liable under the PCSO Charter.