DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/07 July) – The Bishop of Butuan is being urged to return the P1.7 million luxury vehicle he received in 2009 to the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office and to resign as bishop of Butuan.
Development worker Chit Asis, a Butuanon who is a former director general of the Liberal Party and former Chief of Staff of Senator Tanada, wrote the kusogmindanaw e-group Thursday that she prays for Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos to “be enlightened and give the vehicles back to PCSO and better, resign as Bishop of Butuan.”
“I believe that many Butuanons share this sentiment. We are not proud of this incident, and certainly many parishioners are dismayed, not to mention church workers and priests who are greatly demoralized,” she said.
At the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing on Wednesday, PCSO chair Margie Juico and PCSO general manager Jose Ferdinand Rojas II said the charity agency under the previous administration, issued checks for P6.9 million to four Catholic dioceses and a church-run charity for the purchase of vehicles and that Butuan Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos had personally asked then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, now Pampanga Representative, for a new vehicle as “birthday gift.”
Asis said what Pueblos did was “a personal action between GMA (then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo) and the Bishop. The Diocese of Butuan and the Father Saturnino Urios University are not involved, therefore he alone should solve the problem and not solicit help or assistance from the Diocese or the University.”
“The action is inappropriate and in poor taste. Regardless of the circumstances, a person in such position and stature should in fact be more circumspect,” she said, adding the constitutional provision on separation of church and state is clear.
“There is no prohibition for serving the poor communities administered by the church. As such the programs of the church are not prohibited from receiving assistance from PCSO. But again this is a personal ‘birthday’ request. It is not a program for the poor,” she said.
Pueblos declined to comment on the call for him to resign but the news website of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) reported on Thursday that the bishops who received vehicles are willing to return them to the agency.
“I don’t see any problem with that (returning the vehicle). 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 was quoted as saying.
The Diocese of Butuan received a P1.629 million check for the purchase of a Mitsubishi Montero SUV (sports utility vehicle) in 2009. The check was issued after Pueblos’ request was endorsed by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
“I really need a brand-new car, possibly a 4×4 which I can use to reach the far-flung areas of Caraga. I hope you will not fail to give a brand-new car which will serve as your birthday gift to me,” Pueblos wrote in March 2009. Pueblos is known to be close to the former President.
PCSO officials said Pueblos wrote another letter on March 24, 2009, saying the vehicle would be used for “spiritual and social services” in his Diocese.
Pueblos told DXBR Bombo Radyo Butuan on Wednesday that the PCSO-funded vehicle was used for the activities of the Caraga Conference for Peace and Development (CCPD).
CBCP News reported that Pueblos is willing to attend the ongoing Senate investigation.
“Yes, I would even like to make a privilege speech in Senate. It’s a character assassination what they did to me and because of this I have also… to defend myself,” CBCP News quoted Pueblos.
Basilan Bishop Martin Jumoad said he is willing to return the P1.225 million Mitsubishi Strada 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 was quoted as saying.
Jumoad stressed that the pick-up utility vehicle is being used not as his personal car but for medical and relief operations in Basilan.
‘In trust for public use’
CBCP News online said Bishops Deogracias Iñiguez of Kalookan and Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon agree that the vehicles should be given back to the PCSO to end 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.
Juico said PCSO is supposed to donate only ambulances. A check at the PCSO website showed a form for application for ambulances with a corresponding counterpart on the part of the requesting institution, of 40 percent of the purchase price of the vehicle.
The previous PCSO administration released checks ranging from P720,000 to P1.629 million or a total of P6.904 million, to the dioceses of Butuan, Zamboanga, Cotabato, Isabela and Caritas.
Juico said the diocese of Abra and the vicariates of Bontoc and Lagawe in Ifugao received vehicles on the request of Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo, a former CBCP President.
She said Fr. Adriano Ruiz got a Toyota Grandia as endorsed by Zamboanga Archbishop Romulo Valles, Bishop Martin Jumoad of Basilan received a Mitsubishi Strada, and the Archdiocese of Caritas Nueva Segovia in Ilocos Sur an Isuzu Crosswind.
Earlier, the CBCP said it is willing to furnish details to the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee on how it spent the PCSO donations to help the poor.
A letter signed by CBCP President and Tandag Bishop Nereo Odchimar said the bishops who receive PCSO money “do not own the donation but holds it in trust for public use of its diocese.”
“Whatever the benefit the Catholic Church may get from the gift is purely incidental…Our conscience is clear,” Odchimar said. (MindaNews)