BISHOPS APOLOGY 'HUMBLES' JUICO / NOY: FUNDS CANNOT BE USED FOR RELIGION

MANILA, JULY 14, 2011 (MANILA TIMES) (PHOTO - Officials of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), led by Chairman Margarita Juico (second from left), on Tuesday attend Mass at the state-run lottery operator’s headquarters inside the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City. PHOTO BY JOSEPH MUEGO)

CHAIRMAN Margarita Juico of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) on Tuesday commended a number of the country’s Roman Caholic bishops for apologizing for lapses in judgment over asking for and receiving financial assistance from the agency.

“I am humbled by the statement of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) expressing its apology to the Catholic community and the public for the seeming inconsistency of the actions of some bishops with the Catholic preaching when they solicited and accepted donations from the previous (PCSO) board,” Juico said in a statement.

The CBCP made the apology on Monday in behalf of the seven bishops who accepted funds from PCSO for purchase of high-end vehicles during the previous administration.

The rest of Juico’s statement:

“It takes great courage, humility and grace from the CBCP hierarchy to come up with a statement that acknowledges some mistakes and error in judgment had been made by a few members of the clergy.

‘In the CBCP’s own words that “our Mother Church has been deeply wounded by the controversies that have erupted in the past two weeks,’ I, and the present PCSO Board, would like to pick up on this phrase and say that the time has come for the healing of wounds, for reconciliation and for moving forward.

“The donations to the good bishops were received in good faith. PCSO values its partnership with the Church. The charity institution shares the concerns of the Church in extending medical and health services to the poor and in helping make their lives a little better. The Church is an indispensable ally and partner of government in nation-building.

”While PCSO provides the ambulances and other means of transportation, we acknowledge and appreciate that the parish priests and their dioceses are at the forefront of community service.

“The Senate inquiry in aid of legislation, we hope, would provide clarity and clear cut rules on how PCSO should dispense funds for charity and social concerns.

“We therefore pray that the divisive the contentious issues that unfolded in recent days do not deter us, the CBCP and PCSO, from still working together and continuing our mission of alleviating the plight of the poor.”

FROM PHILSTAR

PCSO chief says sorry for Pajero tag on bishops By Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) Updated July 14, 2011 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) chair Margarita Juico apologized yesterday to the Senate and the Catholic bishops for the controversy generated by her pronouncement that some bishops received Pajero sport utility vehicles (SUVs) as donations during the term of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

“I am so sorry for whatever this may have caused. I really do not know where that came from. In fact, I have already said that there was no Pajero here and in fact, I enumerated the cars,” Juico told the Senate public hearing on the PCSO anomalies.

Throughout the hearing, Juico maintained that she did not mention that Mitsubishi Pajeros were given to the bishops.

“I don’t recall saying Pajeros. It was, I think, an information that was given to us by one of the managers in the PCSO when they said utility vehicles were given to bishops,” she explained.

Juico compared the use of the word Pajero for utility vehicles to how some Filipinos generically refer to refrigerators as Frigidaires.

Senators grilled Juico after the bishops were able to explain that the utility vehicles they purchased out of the funds donated to them by the PCSO in 2009 were used in helping the poor in their respective dioceses.

Sen. Jinggoy Estrada lectured Juico about the need to be careful in her public pronouncements because this latest exposé dragged the entire Catholic Church into the controversy.

“You have to verify first the results because our bishops are being put in a very, very bad situation. And as devout Catholic, it pains me to hear that our bishops are involved in anomalies here in our country,” Estrada said.

Estrada did not accept Juico’s claims that she was misquoted by the media because her story about the Pajeros was published by at least three media outfits.

“Your honor, Mr. Chairman, I think somebody from within PCSO told me it was a Pajero, and maybe that got spun around. But I think I made a correction when I finally got the documents that the Pajeros weren’t Pajeros. There were no Pajeros, and instead there was a Montero Sport, there was a Grandia, there were other cars. No Pajero, I think I made that correction several times,” Juico said.

PCSO manager Ferdinand Rojas II tried to rescue Juico from the intense grilling and told the senators that she might have been misquoted.

“How can Mrs. Juico be misquoted when three news agencies carried this news?” Estrada asked.

Estrada joined Senators Panfilo Lacson and Vicente Sotto III in asking the PCSO to let the bishops retain possession of the vehicles since they were used to help the less fortunate anyway.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said he leaves it up to the PCSO to decide whether the vehicles will be given back to the bishops.

Enrile said he does not want to think that the PCSO officials were irresponsible when they leaked the COA report to the media and insinuated that certain bishops were given Pajeros.

He noted that the COA report and the issued checks reflected financial contributions.

“There was no word Pajero but utility vehicles were in the checks. That’s the problem when they based their pronouncements not on the documents at hand but on what they wanted to say to the public, which is why the public is now confused,” Enrile said in Filipino.

Asked if he thinks the bishops were “unfairly maligned” by the wrongful pronouncements, Enrile said he thinks they were “unfairly accused of receiving expensive vehicles” which was rather incorrect.

“And I think the matter was clarified already,” Enrile said.

After hearing the side of the bishops, Senate Blue Ribbon chairman Sen. Teofisto Guingona immediately terminated the hearing and said that senators requested for more time to question the resource persons in today’s hearing.

Former PCSO general manager Rosario Uriarte and ex-PCSO advertising officer Manuel Garcia are expected to be grilled when the hearing the resumes today.

P-Noy: PCSO funds cannot be used for religion BY CRIS G. ODRONIA REPORTER

MANILA TIMES - PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino 3rd on Tuesday said that government funds cannot be used for promoting a particular religion, citing a provision in the Constitution.

On Monday, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines issued an apology to the public after seven of its bishops were accused of using donations from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) to buy luxury vehicles during the past Arroyo administration.

“I’m sure that there is a method by which funds can be made available to those who are really helping their communities,” President Aquino said during a chance interview in his visit to Capiz province in the Visayas.

“Basically, government funds cannot be used for the promotion of a specific religion. Now, if there are charitable works done by any denomination, any Church, without specifically advancing a particular religion, then that is allowable,” the President added.

During the chance interview, he said that his administration was looking into the construction of a complex belonging to a religious order that allegedly used government funds. “Government funds were used in the construction of this complex that belonged to another religious order which we were also studying and trying to determine whether . . . there were violations,” the President added.

Mr. Aquino, however, said that it was not the Catholic Church that he was referring to.

“Not the Catholic Church. That’s what I want to emphasize,” he told reporters.

A Cabinet-level arm of the government such as the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) getting monetary assistance from PCSO is legally acceptable.

According to DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo, the financial help being received by the national police from PCSO was legal and covered by guidelines.

He noted that PCSO has been allotting a portion of the proceeds from the scrapped Small Town Lottery (STL) and, even with the new “Loteryang Bayan” guidelines, the PNP is still entitled to get that portion.

Concern, Robredo said, should not be on whether getting the financial assistance was aboveboard but on how the national police use the money.

“What we need to know is if the funds were spent properly or judiciously. We need to have a breakdown of the expenses using PCSO funds,” he added.

The PNP was also receiving funds from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. and last year an investigation was made regarding a P21-million Pagcor contribution to the national police.

The amount was intended for PNP’s “activities and operations in line with its thrust to provide security to the population.”

Whether former President and now Rep. Gloria Arroyo of Pampanga should be summoned by the Senate to answer questions on her alleged looting of PCSO’s P325-million intelligence funds during her watch has been left hanging by the chamber.

Senate blue ribbon chairman Teofisto Guingona 3rd also on Tuesday said that he needed to talk to members of the panel to “deliberate first” before they could decide to call on Mrs. Arroyo to respond to testimony made by former PCSO General Manager Rosario Uriarte that the then-president drained the intelligence funds.

The last release from the funds worth P150 million and signed by Mrs. Arroyo was made on January 4, 2010, or shortly before the start of election period.

The former president allegedly helping herself with the PCSO intelligence funds was basis for complaints of plunder, graft, technical malversation and malversation filed by lawmakers from Bayan Muna party-list against Mrs. Arroyo and Uriarte also on Tuesday.

Representatives Teodoro Casińo and Neri Colmenares asked the Office of the Ombudsman to investigate the former president and Uriarte for allegedly allowing the diversion of P325-million PCSO funds.

They said that the former PCSO official issued eight memoranda where she requested Mrs. Arroyo for intelligence allocations for her office.

One of the memoranda involved the P150 million released in early 2010.

The diverted money was used for the Small Town Lottery, relief operations during calamities and payment of “blood money” to save overseas Filipino workers imprisoned abroad, the lawmakers said.

Casińo and Colmenares filed the case personally before Acting Ombudsman Orlando Casimiro.

The Manila Times tried to reach Maita Defensor who speaks for Mrs. Arroyo but its calls were unreturned.

Casimiro said that the complaints would be a “priority as they involved a high-ranking official.” with reports from JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA, SAMMY MARTIN, LLANESCA T. PANTI AND JOHN CONSTANTINE G. CORDON

Religious group under probe for use of public funds By Aurea Calica (The Philippine Star) Updated July 13, 2011 12:00 AM

[PHOTO - P-Noy hands over a Philhealth Card to Rospirino Nicodemus during the Distribution of Social Services at the Augusto Legaspi Gymnasium, Provincial Capitol Compound, in Kalibo, Aklan Tuesday July 12, 2011. (Photo by: Jay Morales / Malacanang Photo Bureau)]

ROXAS CITY, Capiz, Philippines – The government is set to look into possible constitutional violation of a religious group’s use of public funds to build a “complex.”

President Aquino, in an ambush interview with reporters here yesterday, said that investigation into Catholic bishops’ acceptance of funds from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office should continue and that he will make sure that his administration would not unduly support one religion in violation of the Constitution.

Aquino was here and in Kalibo, Aklan to personally distribute the government’s various social services to the people.

The President said the Senate investigation into the PCSO funds misuse should also give rise to reforms in the disbursement of funds.

He made the statement even as the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines expressed remorse on Monday over the “pain and sadness” inflicted on the faithful by the controversy over the lavish donations of funds for expensive vehicles to seven of its members from the PCSO.

“And if I just may point out, the issue of separation of Church and state also impinges on another religious, churches, how do I say this? Government funds were used in the construction of this complex that belongs to another religious order, which we are also studying and trying to determine whether or not there were violations. Not the Catholic Church. That’s what I want to emphasize,” Aquino said. He did not name the religious group or what “complex” it had put up.

But he said there must be careful study first on what must be done especially after the bishops had apologized.

“I still have to see the advice of my legal staff as to what has to be done there. What’s the most important here is, the provision that says for the use, benefit or support of any sect, Church, denomination, sectarian institution or system of knowledge or any preacher, minister or other, no public money or property shall be appropriated,” Aquino said.

“What’s being stressed there is, it’s like there should be no state religion. So therefore when you fund a particular Church, you’re advancing a particular religion, that is in contravention to the constitutional provision. So if it was turned over to the Social Action Center, used the ambulance, the purpose is other than advancing the religion, that’s permissible,” Aquino said.

The President said that while he was growing up, he was aware of the so-called basic Christian community and social action center, which were able to help a lot in their communities.

“But at the same time, there is also constitutional injunction on the separation of Church and state. I’m sure that there is a method by which funds can be made available to those who are really helping their communities. We will find that particular mechanism whereby we can do it,” Aquino said.

“The particular law says, in the Constitution, something to the effect that… government funds cannot be used for the promotion of a specific religion. Now if there are charitable works done by any denomination, any Church without specifically advancing a particular religion then that is allowable,” Aquino said.

He cited Article VI Section 29 of the Constitution stating: “No public money or property shall be appropriated, applied, paid or employed, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, sectarian institution or system of religion, or of any priest, preacher, minister, other religious teacher or dignitary as such, except when such priest, preacher, minister, or dignitary is assigned to the armed forces, or to any penal institution or government orphanage or leprosarium.”


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