MALAYBALAY CITY (18 July) – Just because they had shown during the Senate investigation on July 13 that the vehicles donated by the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office were used for delivering assistance to poor communities, the Catholic bishops embroiled in the alleged fund mess in the PCSO thought they had cleared their names and that of the Church. Until now, the bishops as well as their supporters are still deliberately evading the real issue behind the controversy – that former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had facilitated the donations in exchange for their political support.
I wished the Senate blue ribbon committee had focused on the political element of the donations in question instead of confining the investigation to the legal aspect. But committee chair Senator Teofisto Guingona III and his colleagues were more interested in ending the hearing on a reconciliatory note by limiting it to the question of whether the donations had violated the constitutional principle of separation of church and state. And since the bishops were able to prove that the vehicles were not Pajeros as claimed in some media reports and were used for humanitarian purposes, it was the lawmakers who tried to sound apologetic at the end of the hearing. Some of them even asked the bishops to reconsider their decision to return the vehicles to government.
The outcome of last Wednesday’s Senate committee hearing had become predictable when Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago took the podium to echo her stance that no laws were violated when the PCSO gave the controversial donations. Like her fellow senators, she omitted the damning piece of evidence that showed that Butuan Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos had forged a Faustian pact with Arroyo. Senator Jinggoy Estrada touched on this aspect but only in a manner that sounded casual and allegorical. Nonetheless, it was enough to make de Dios Pueblos admit that he’d probably sell, after discernment, his political soul to the Devil for humanitarian ends.
Hence I don’t understand why some of the bishops’ colleagues and supporters have treated the outcome of the Senate hearing as a victory for them. They have called on the current PCSO leadership to apologize for the pejorative “Pajero bishops” tag. If the tag really came from the PCSO, maybe the agency needs to correct such inaccuracy. But again, the wrong label is just a side issue. The bigger issue is the way Arroyo used public funds to obtain partisan support from an influential institution regardless of what types of vehicle were purchased with those funds.
They have also ventured into the comic and poorly conceived speculation that the PCSO controversy has been used to blunt the bishops’ opposition to the Reproductive Health Bill. This according to a news item posted on cbcponline.net, the website of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Conference, although the article simply quoted bits and pieces from “analysts” who cut and pasted earlier opinions about the issue. One of these so-called analysts happens to be a columnist known for her pro-Arroyo stance. Another source quoted is a self-styled moralist who, at the resumption of the Senate hearing this morning, could not – or would not – categorically answer why the past PCSO management did not conduct bidding for a multimillion peso project during his time.
Here’s the clincher: If the pro-RH advocates really wanted to discredit the bishops to make the passage of the bill easier, why did Senator Santiago, the principal author of the Senate version of the bill, come to the defense of the bishops? (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)