Bishop Pueblos willing to face consequences for 'lapse in judgment'
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE) - Butuan Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos on Wednesday admitted that he made a lapse in judgment in asking President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for funds to buy a luxury vehicle as a birthday gift in 2009.
Speaking before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, Pueblos admitted asking for funds to buy a brand new Mitsubishi Montero 2008 model from President Arroyo so that he could further promote and work for peace in the CARAGA region in northern Mindanao.
"Service to the public more than anything motivated me to seek assistance from the government in this regard with the intention of furthering the common good in my region. Unfortunately, my zeal in this line appears to be my shortcoming. Recognizing the collective wisdom of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, I assent that our actions as bishops should be motivated primarily by the mission entrusted to us by the Lord to promote the welfare of our flock," he said.
The bishop said he coursed his request through Maria Fatima Valdez of the Office of Religious Affairs. He said he asked for a Montero since it would endure the rigorous terrain of the CARAGA region.
Pueblos said he did not see anything improper about his request to the President for a Montero "because she knows the situation of the roads in CARAGA."
He said the President assigned him to promote peace in the region, and help the Melo Commission in its investigation on extra-judicial killings.
Pueblos noted the acquisition of the vehicle using Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) funds "has cast a shadow of uncertainty on my dignity as a bishop and my moral ascendancy as a leader of the Catholic Church."
"I even acknowledge that my letter to the President was a lapse in judgment on my part as to the propriety of the procurement of said vehicle. I accept full responsibility for this personal action. Despite my best efforts and honest intentions, my actions have been misconstrued...I am willing to face the consequences of my lapse in judgment," he said.
Pueblos and 6 other Catholic bishops have come under the scrutiny of their fellow bishops after receiving utility vehicles from the Arroyo administration bought with PCSO funds.
Aside from Pueblos, the other bishops are Bontoc-Lagawe Bishop Rodolfo Beltran (Nissan Pathfinder), Abra Bishop Leopoldo Jaucian (Mitsubishi Strada), Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo (Toyota Grandia Hi-Ace), Basilan Bishop Martin Jumoad (Mitsubishi Strada), Zamboanga Archbishop Romulo Valles (Toyota Grandia Hi-Ace); and, Nueva Segovia Archbishop Ernesto Salgado (Isuzu Crosswind).
All 7 bishops have agreed to return the vehicles to the PCSO. Except for Salgado, all the accused bishops appeared before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing on Wednesday.
Pueblos has particularly been singled out for receiving the vehicle while turning a blind eye on the "Hello, Garci" and other corruption scandals involving Arroyo.
Edwin Lacierda, spokesman of President Benigno Aquino III, earlier noted that Pueblos called for Aquino's resignation when he was barely a year in office while keeping silent about the scandals against Arroyo.
"The proof of the pudding is in the eating. So, nakita ninyo si Bishop Pueblos, malapit po siya sa nakaraang administrasyon kaya hindi po kami nagtataka kung bakit po siya bumabanat kay Pangulong Aquino. Sa totoo lang po, masyadong political po ang statements ni Bishop Pueblos na hindi ho dapat," he said.
During the hearing, Pueblos said he agreed with the words of the late Jaime Cardinal Sin that he would use the "devil's money to help the poor."
Asked if he would accept money even if it came from Satan, he said: "I would rather say, if it could be true, I think I am going to use it...If it is for the common good, I do believe there might be a possibility but I have to discern it rather than accepting it at once."
He clarified that his statement of support for Arroyo was for her work in improving the CARAGA region. "Now, I will be supporting Noynoy in this case," he said.
Pueblos admitted that he was close to former President Arroyo after she asked him to help the commission investigating private armies and the Melo Commission investigating extrajudicial killings.
"I do believe that we do have that kind of relationship," he said.
The bishop also blamed the media for saying that he called for President Aquino's resignation recently.
He said that what he meant to say was that Aquino and his officials should change for the betterment of the country.
"I placed in there change...They just digested what I mean. It is only change something for the betterment of the country. It will not be only for him but the people surrounding him so that at least we could have a better country," he said.
"Who am I to actually let a president be out of the job that..." he added.
Asked if he directly called for Aquino's resignation, he said: "I placed there 'if he is not going to change, and our country is...not in good shape', that is the time that I placed something."
During the hearing, Quevedo admitted that the bishops were ashamed by the false reports that they received Pajeros instead of service vehicles from the PCSO.
He said that despite the false report, the accused bishops agreed with the CBCP to return the vehicles regardless of whether or not its acquisition was lawful or constitutional.
He said the vehicles from the bishops in Mindanao will be turned over to duly authorized PCSO representatives while vehicles from those in Luzon were already outside the Senate building.
"We think we can do our job without encumbrance of the political or any reason whatsoever that has given shame to the whole conference. We shall collaborate with PCSO but I think we shall be forced to change the rules for ourselves...The environment has changed and I am sad to say that mistrust has been injected in that relationship," he said.
Quevedo also turned down a proposal from the senators that the bishops keep the vehicles for their charity and relief work.
"We have a deeper and higher motive in mind in returning the vehicles. In the [Catholic] bishops' conference, the word prophetic was used if we return. We religious leaders understand that word prophetic. That's the reason why we return. Thank you for listening to us. We hope we helped you discover the truth and aid in your legislation," he said.
Juico: I didn't say Pajeros
Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, meanwhile, lectured PCSO Chairman Margie Juico for allegedly saying that the bishops received Pajeros instead of service vehicles.
Juico said she could not recall saying that the ex-PCSO Board gave out Pajeros, and that she had corrected the information many times in later interviews.
"We never said Pajero. We got this finding from COA that 5 vehicles costing P6.9 million given to the Catholic Church were charged to the charity fund. The name Pajero did not come from us. It came about when somebody said it was Pajero. I don't recall saying Pajeros. I think it was information given to us by one of the managers from PCSO that utility vehicles was given to bishops," she said.
"Somebody in PCSO told me it was a Pajero and that got spun around. I made a correction when I finally got the documents. It's like when you say you bought a Frigidaire, when you mean a refrigerator. You say 'Pajero' when you mean SUV. I think that was how that impression came up," she added.
Estrada, however, was unconvinced. "Siguro, madam chair, the next time you have to verify your reports before coming out in the open, in the media exposing that these bishops received so-and-so. You have to verify the results because our bishops are being put in a very, very bad situation. As a devout Catholic, it pains me to hear that our bishops are involved in anomalies here in our country."
Juico apologized to the bishops for the false report.