MANILA, Philippines – Catholic bishops who received sports utility vehicles (SUVs) from a state-owned lottery said they are returning them back to the agency.
Among them is Butuan Bishop Juan De Dios Pueblos who got a P1.629 million-worth Mitsubishi Montero from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) in 2009.
“I don’t see any problem with that. I am riding a very old vehicle within the diocese itself. I could even ride a small vehicle if it is necessary. It will not really be a problem,” Pueblos said.
The bishop said he is also willing to attend the ongoing Senate investigation into the alleged anomalous transactions by the PCSO during the Arroyo administration.
“Yes, I would even like to make a privilege speech in Senate,” he said. “It’s a character assassination what they did to me and because of this I have also in sort of to defend myself.”
Basilan Bishop Martin Jumoad said he is willing to return the P1.225 million Mitsubishi Estrada that his diocese bought using the financial aid they received from the PCSO in 2009.
“If they want to get it, it’s ready. We can return it to them,” Jumoad said.
Jumoad reiterated that the pick-up utility vehicle is being used not as his personal car but for medical and relief operations in Basilan.
The present PCSO administration said an audit showed that at least 6.9 million in charity funds were used to buy vehicles upon the request of some bishops.
Such donations, it said, violate a law prohibiting the use of government money for religious purposes.
Bishops Deogracias Iñiguez of Kalookan and Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon agree that the vehicles should given back to the PCSO to finally put an end to the controversy.
“Just return the vehicles to put an end to this issue. Not doing so will only fuel speculations,” said Iñiguez.
“Return all these vehicles to PNoy (President Aquino). They’ll make it appear that the bishops personally used those vehicles when the bishops didn’t,” Bastes said.
The Aquino administration earlier said they are leaving the decision to the bishops whether or not to return the vehicles.
But Malacañang defended the PCSO expose saying that it is only doing its job of promoting transparency in their search for truth.
Other bishops who received budget for buying an SUV are Archbishops Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato, Romulo Valles of Zamboanga, Ernesto Salgado ofNueva Segovia, Bishops Rodolfo Beltran of Bontoc-Lagawe, and Leopoldo Jaucian of Abra. (CBCPNews)