MALAYBALAY CITY (10 July) — Whether the nature of the donations, in cash or in cars, from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office to
various dioceses has violated the principle of separation of church and state, is not the issue that lies at the core of the controversy now hounding some Catholic bishops and inevitably the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines as a whole. The involvement of Butuan Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos, who only recently created a controversy himself by announcing that an ouster plot against President Aquino was in the works, and by implying that he was in favor of such move, adds an intriguing twist to yet another collision between the church and Malacanang.

“He (Aquino) is not really worthy to be a President. That job is not for him. The earlier he will be out of his post, the better for the Philippines,” Pueblos was reported to have declared. Had he said so as an unbiased observer, nobody would have questioned his motive. Unfortunately for him, anything he’s going to say against Aquino would always be tainted by his close association with former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. This leads us to the question of whether the Palace wanted to pin him down for his anti-Aquino politics, which at this point in time is mainly speculative.

It could also be that Aquino is using the alleged anomalies involved in the disbursement of PCSO funds as a means to tighten the noose around Arroyo. Note that the controversy led to the discovery by the Senate blue ribbon committee that the PCSO allotted P325 million as “intelligence funds” from 2008 to 2010, an amount which is reportedly bigger than the intelligence fund of either the armed forces or the police for the same period. Worse, former PCSO general manager Rosario Uriarte’s explanation of how the funds were used has only raised more questions and may implicate the former president in the long run.

Regardless of Aquino’s motives, the Senate probe revealed two things: 1] big amounts of PCSO funds were spent on questionable projects; 2] funds from the same agency were used for partisan political purposes is shown in the case of Bishop Pueblos. Questions on the huge intelligence funds can be answered by a simple “people trail”, that is, tracing how the money changed hands to determine who should be held accountable. Since 2010 was an election year, the trail may lead to a scandal of similar magnitude as that of the fertilizer fund scam.

Pueblos’ case on the other hand involves an amount which is merely a drop in the bucket of PCSO’s largesse. But it’s a drop that has created a tsunami of reactions in that the bishop, as his letter to Arroyo categorically stated, had asked for a luxury car in exchange for “constant support” to her troubled presidency. There can be no denying the quid pro quo being offered by Pueblos to Arroyo in that letter, a document that may have unmasked most, if not all, of the CBCP members as pro-Arroyo partisans. Worse, Pueblos made it plain it to her that his loyalty has a price tag to it.

In a televised mass this morning, a priest lamented in his homily why so much fuss has surrounded the PCSO donations to some bishops and dioceses. He correctly noted that the amount involved is much smaller compared to the funds wasted through corruption. Good point. But the issue, in as far as Pueblos is concerned, is not the amount but the context in which the bishop asked for it. And it wasn’t a gift; it sounded more like a bribe. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can reached at