NOY REFUSES TO APOLOGIZE TO BISHOPS / "GLAD TO BE AMONG PROTESTANTS"

CALAMBA, LAGUNA, JULY 17, 2011 (STAR) By Delon Porcalla – President Aquino yesterday rejected calls from some Roman Catholic bishops for him to apologize over the wrongful “Pajero bishop” label on seven prelates who were dragged into the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) fund mess for accepting cash donations for the purchase of vehicles.

“Iyung apology hindi ho klaro. Bakit ako mag a-apologize sa kanila (The demand for an apology is not clear. Why should I apologize to them?)” he asked. But Cotabato Auxiliary Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo, one of the bishops who demanded an apology, said he has already forgiven the President.

Aquino turned over some 50 housing units here to members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police.

Earlier, the PCSO revealed that seven bishops received funds from the PCSO for the purchase of expensive sport utility vehicles like Pajero. It turned out, not one of the vehicles bought using PCSO funds was a Pajero. The only SUV was a Mitsubishi Montero bought by Butuan Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos.

“Now, it’s PCSO and President Aquino’s time to apologize to the people. After what they have done, (PCSO chair Margarita) Juico’s resignation is the best apology. Maybe the entire board of PCSO should resign. (President) Noynoy has failed,” Bagaforo said in a message sent to Radio Veritas last Thursday.

“Hindi ho yata tama na kami pa ang mag-a-apologize (I think it’s not right that we’re the ones being asked to apologize),” Aquino said. But he stressed his administration has always been open to consultations with the church, particularly over key issues like the Reproductive Health bill.

He said the latest issue has not affected his administration’s cordial relations with the Church and that he is always willing to reach out to the bishops.

The President clarified his administration was not picking a fight with the Catholic Church, and that the bishops only demanded an apology because they were indignant.

“Pasensya na po kayo ako po ay pinalaking Katoliko, pinalaki po akong gumalang sa nakakatanda sa akin. Karamihan po iyang obispo na iyan ay nakakatanda sa akin (I beg your pardon. I was raised a Catholic, and taught to respect elders),” Aquino told reporters when pressed for further comment.

“I know, you need more exciting news, like a confrontation with the bishops. But it’s not helping the country,” he told media.

Also yesterday, Aquino brushed aside suggestions to investigate the decision of Juico to hire public relations expert Dante Ang.

“I don’t have to investigate it. I will call the chairman and ask her if that is precisely the case,” he said, insisting that his job is to make sure that PCSO guarantees are honored by hospitals so that such agencies can perform their mandate of helping the poor.

“Their function is charity, that’s the first aspect. They should take good care of their clients which are those in need, and that is where I wanted to get back to solid financial footing,” Aquino said.

He lamented that around P3 billion in guarantees are no longer honored by government hospitals. “Why is it that advertising budget went beyond what the board authorized?” he asked.

“All of these are part and parcel of trying to get them on a solid financial footing to be able to address all of the needs of the indigents that were their primary responsibility,” he pointed out.

Forgiven

Even if President Aquino has not apologized, Bagaforo said he has forgiven the Chief Executive.

“We could not force people to say sorry. That is okay. He is forgiven,” he said.

Bagaforo earlier said there was an anti-Catholic Church campaign with the blessing of Aquino.

“Shall we just let this thing happened? Let’s make a stand for our faith,” he said last Thursday.

Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines secretary-general Monsignor Juanito Figura said that while he respects the sentiment of individual bishops, this does not reflect the stand of the CBCP.

“In the first place, these are personal statements of the individual bishops so I would not be able to speak on their behalf... The CBCP, as a conference, has not made any such call or it has even insinuated that such an apology is in order. Maybe that can be taken as an expression of their sentiment,” said Figura.

He preferred that the apology be freely given and not solicited.

When asked if the PCSO fund mess has strained the relationship of the CBCP with Aquino, Figura replied, “I don’t like to think of it that way, if there is an adversarial relationship between the Church or CBCP in particular and the administration.”

“The Catholic Church is from the spiritual and moral angle, while the government is from the social and other secular angle so it cannot be helped that there would be instances when there would be misunderstanding. It is not necessarily adversarial,” added Figura.

Sorry for what?

For Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., there’s no need for President Aquino to apologize.

“No need to apologize. Bishops should not have solicited in the first place,” Belmonte said.

Aside from Bagaforo, Bishops Dinualdo Gutierrez of Marbel, Elenito Galido of Iligan and Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon reportedly sought an apology from Aquino and the PCSO.

Citizens Battle Against Corruption Rep. Sherwin Tugna suggested that the four “bishops practice what they preach in the pulpit” which is forgiveness.

“Let bygones be bygones. The Bible also said blessed are those who understand and are forgiving. In forgiving, the bishops will also help unite the nation, instead of dividing it,” Tugna said.

Gabriela party-list Rep. Emmerenciana de Jesus said “the bishops’ call displayed height of arrogance.”

“Instead of showing the virtue of righteousness, they showed arrogance,” she said.

Gabriela Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan said the bishops were diverting the issue, which was their acceptance of expensive vehicles and donations from the PCSO even if these were not Pajeros.

Senators Alan Cayetano and Francis Pangilinan also do not see any reason for Aquino to apologize.

“I think an apology by President Aquino and Juico is unnecessary. There had been an admission that there was a lapse of judgment and they saw it fit to return the vehicles. Why then should PNoy and Juico,” Pangilinan said.

Cayetano, for his part, appealed for more understanding from the bishops.

“If there was a reckless accusation, then there’s need to apologize,” Cayetano said.

Meanwhile, former senator Francisco Tatad urged Aquino to follow his mother’s footsteps and oppose the RH bill.

Tatad, chairman of the International Right to Live Federation, cited that the late President Cory Aquino strongly opposed the RH bill.

“I am calling on President Aquino to defend and protect the position of his mother to fight RH Bill,” Tatad said.

For his part, Abante challenged pro-RH bill and Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman to a debate on the measure.

“Defend RH bill which will kill the unborn babies and I will defend the importance of life,” Abante said. With Jose Rodel Clapano, Christina Mendez, Paolo Romero, and Evelyn Macairan

FROM MALAYA

Bishops’ revenge? ‘Quitting is best apology’ BY GERARD NAVAL SORSOGON

Bishop Arturo Bastes (photo left,) and auxiliary Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo (photo right), yesterday asked Margie Juico to resign as chief of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office for dragging some members of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines into the fund irregularities in her agency.

"After what they have done, Juico’s resignation is the best apology. Maybe the entire board of the PCSO should resign," said Bagaforo.

"I agree that Juico et al should resign. Let them resign," said Bastes.

Iligan Bishop Elenito Galido said, "(We) leave it to the President to ask her to resign for just action."

Marbel Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez said Juico must make sure to "repair the damage" she had done.

"She should apologize via all media organizations," he said.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda dismissed the bishops’ call.

"I think that’s a pretty minor reason to ask for her resignation," he said.

Lacierda also said the bigger issue is the use of the PCSO intelligence funds which he said should be accounted for.

The Philippine Council for Evangelical Churches said the Catholic Church made the right move in returning the vehicles to the PCSO.

"Sensibility na lang," said Bishop Efraim Tendero, PCEC national director, in an ambush interview at the sidelines of the 29th Biennial National Assembly of the PCEC in Clark.

Tendero said the 30,000 local evangelical churches did not receive any donation from the PCSO and the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) or any politician because they strictly follow the constitutional provision on the separation of Church and State.

"We have not received any funds from PCSO or Pagcor. We are against all forms of gambling because we will lose our moral ascendancy," he also said.

He said the PCEC is supported by contributions and donations from its members. There are about 2.5 million to 3 million Protestants in the Philippines.

He said for projects done in cooperation with government, the government spends for its counterpart of the program.

"We don’t accept donations from local politicians. There is a separation of Church and State, so we should not accept anything from government," he added.

The bishops’ call come just a day after Msgr. Juanito Figura said the CBCP, as a body, is not keen on asking an apology from the PCSO for the controversy surrounding the receipt of PCSO donations by seven bishops who then used the money to buy vehicles which they said they used for relief missions and similar activities in their dioceses.

Juico has said five vehicles, which were earlier described to be Pajeros or sports utility vehicles, and costing P6.49 million, were given to the prelates, with the amount charged to the PCSO charity fund.

Six of the seven bishops appeared Wednesday before a Senate inquiry into the alleged misuse of PCSO funds. They came out vindicated after senators said the bishop-recipients did not violate any law.

Subsequently, the tables got turned after the PCSO got berated by the senators for coming out with an exposé tagging the seven bishops as recipients of Pajeros.

Juico, during the hearing, apologized for the Pajero tag. "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." – With Jocelyn Montemayor and Regina Bengco

Aquino finds solace in Protestant arms BY REGINA BENGCO - MALAYA

President Aquino on Thursday said government has reached the "final chapter" of its fight against corruption, which is the filing of charges against officials of the previous administration.

"Magsasampa na ho tayo ng mga sakdal sa kinauukulan para maibuhos lahat ng ating kakayahan para magkaroon ng mga conviction at makulong ang may sala… Eto ho talaga, magbubuhos po ng lahat – galing, lahat ng abilidad – at dito magkaalaman na kung sino nga ba ang magtatagumpay," Aquino said at the 29th Biennial National Assembly of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC) here.

The President clarified that his government is not engaged in political vendetta. "Hindi namin kayo pine-personal. Paniniwala po natin na hangga’t walang nakukulong e para na ring nagsalita tayo na, ‘Manigurado kayong malaki ang makulimbat n’yo para siguradong tuloy ang ligaya nyo’. Hindi pupuwede iyan," he said.

Aquino’s pronouncements were met with loud applause by leaders of the 30,000 local evangelical churches led by Bishop Efraim Tendero. The PCEC leaders gave Aquino a copy of the Bible, a plaque containing their Declaration of Commitment, and prayed over him.

The President, in the middle of government’s rift with the Catholic bishops over donated vehicles from the Sweepstakes Office, found solace and support among PCEC leaders who represent the Protestant religions which count on 10 percent of the Philippine population.

Aquino said he was glad to be among the Protestant leaders.

"Kung ako masusunod, hindi na ako babalik ng Manila. Bukas na lang…Ikinagagalak ko pong maging bahagi ng pagdiriwang ninyo, na sagisag ng nagkakaisang layunin ng pamahalaan at ng mga simbahan na itaguyod ang makabuluhang pagbabago sa ating lipunan. Tanda ito ng pagbibigkis natin para ibangon ang Pilipinas mula sa kahirapan sa pamamagitan ng pagtatakwil natin sa katiwalian at pagtatama sa maling kalakaran," he said.

"I knew when I was elected that I will inherit a lot of problems… Magaling talaga ang pinalitan ko, kaya kaming gulatin even after one year," he said, adding he will pursue reforms in the next five years despite the difficulties.

Aquino told the religious leaders not to lose hope because the Philippines is moving forward.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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