MANILA, Philippines — Allegations that some prelates got vehicles from a state-owned lottery agency will be at the top of the agenda of Catholic bishops when they gather next week.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines is to hold their second and last plenary assembly for the year at the Pius XII Center in Manila on July 8-10.
CBCP President and Tandag Bishop Nereo Odchimar said accusations made by the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) against some bishops will certainly be discussed.
“We will discuss that in the plenary assembly. I still have to listen to the opinions of the other bishops,” Odchimar said.
The church official said he will try to personally discuss the issue with the prelates allegedly involved in the controversy.
“If they will be around, we will be asking also their positions,” he said adding that he does not have a personal knowledge of the supposed “grants” from the PCSO.
The plenary assembly is the highest decision-making body of the bishops’ conference and convenes every January and July.
The PCSO this week accused some bishops of receiving donations and vehicles from then President Gloria Arroyo for political patronage.
The lottery agency also wants beneficiaries from the Catholic Church of more than P6 million deducted from its charity funds to be held liable for violating the law.
Atty. Aleta Tolentino, PCSO board director, said a 2009 Commission on Audit reports revealed that there were several checks of the hefty amount taken from its fund.
It cited, for instance, the P1.4 million given to the Archdiocese of Cotabato for the service vehicle and P1.5 million for the Zamboanga Archdiocesan Social Action Center.
Tolentino said P720,000 was also given to Caritas Nueva Segovia, P1.1 million to the Prelature of Isabela and P1.7 million to the Diocese of Butuan.
The issue, she said, is contrary to “Article VI, Section 29 of the 1987 Constitution, which states that no public money or property shall be appropriated, applied, paid or employed, directly or indirectly for the use or benefit of any sect, church,”
The PCSO also named Butuan Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos, Msgr. Augusto Laban of Sorsogon, and Fr. Roger Lood of a parish in Iligan City as the other recipients of Mitsubishi Pajero vehicles.
Odchimar admitted there is indeed a policy among CBCP members not to accept funds from gambling as provided for in their statement issued January 2005.
The statement stated that they have made it a collective policy “to refrain from soliciting or receiving funds from illegal and legal gambling so as not to promote a culture of gambling”.
“But as I said, this was not generally followed for the benefit of the poor. The needs of the poor are primary important,” he said.
“For example, if someone sick and in critical condition comes to me, would I still hesitate to recommend him to Pagcor? It’s a matter of life and death,” said Odchimar.
He explained that while there is a CBCP, all bishops and their dioceses are independent of one another and are still directly responsible to Pope Benedict XVI. (CBCPNews)