Calling on the ‘SUV’ bishops

Aries C. Rufo

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The vehicles have not been properly turned over to the PCSO

MANILA, Philippines – More than 6 months since the sports utility vehicles have been returned by the bishops, these are still non-performing assets of the Philippine Charity and Sweepstakes Office (PCSO).
PCSO director Aleta Tolentino said that while the bishops may have returned the vehicles, the PCSO cannot dispose of or bid these out to interested buyers since the bishops have not formally submitted the requisition forms for a proper turnover.
Essentially, only the vehicles were returned, without the supporting documents.

Based on records, P6.49-M has been released to at least 7 bishops between 2007 to 2010.
Ranging from P600,000 to P1.7-M, the PCSO financial aid was used to procure vehicles for the bishops and use of the diocese.
Tolentino said that except for one, no other bishop or representatives from the diocese have properly liquidated the cash advances given to them. She explained that although the money was in the form of a donation, the bishops should have submitted documents to support that the money provided them had been properly used to its intended purpose.
Noting that some of the vehicles are pre-owned, it is likely that there was excess in the cash advances which should have been liquidated as well.


As for the vehicles, “the PCSO cannot dispose of these accordingly since these are without the necessary documents. They should have executed deed of conveyance to the PCSO,” she said.
In effect, “the vehicles are still under their name,” she added.
We sent e-mails and faxed letters to the concerned bishops to inquire whether they have properly liquidated the cash advances from the PCSO and whether the documents related to the purchase of the vehicles have been forwarded.
Of the 7 bishops involved, only Cotabato Archbishop and former CBCP president Orlando Quevedo replied to our questions. As for  Caritas Nueva Segovia Archbishop Ernesto Salgado, we were able to get in touch with his executive secretary.
As for the rest, we got no feedback from them despite repeated calls and follow-ups.
Quevedo, who justified the procurement of vehicle as a “demand for emergency to help provide basic necessities for Muslims and Christians displaced by the armed fighting,” surmised that his colleagues have properly complied with the liquidation, “by reason of the Church’s own faithful observance of requirements for external grants.”
As for Salgado, his executive secretary Sister Lilian Caranza said the diocese has already submitted all the required documents for the Isuzu Crosswind that the bishop procured.
Caranza said the diocese had to shell out an additional P84,000 since the sports utility vehicle cost P800,000. We checked with Tolentino who confirmed that the Archdiocese of Caritas Nueva Segovia submitted the vehicle’s deed of assignment last January.
Still, it took the diocese more than 7 months to settle the issue.
In a major counter-attack, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines turned a losing propaganda into a winning game when they returned the vehicles the bishops procured using funds from the PCSO.
The bishops had been battered by negative publicity on the vehicle scandal, where it was revealed that funds for social programs of the Church have been allegedly diverted for the purchase of cars for the personal use of some bishops.
Facing the Senate on the alleged use of public funds to benefit some members of the Church, the bishops announced they were returning the vehicles, some of which were parked on the Senate grounds.
Former CBCP president Orlando Quevedo told the Senate that they were returning the vehicles “regardless of whether the acquisition of the vehicles has been lawful or unlawful, constitutional or unconstitutional…”
The decision was made during the CBCP’s plenary last July, which coincided with the revelation of PCSO that some P6.49 million in its proceeds went into the purchase of cars by some bishops.
The PCSO, citing the observations of the Commission on Audit, said the procurement of the vehicles, through the financial aid given by the agency, violates the separation of the Church and State.
The Senate Blue Ribbon quickly cleared the bishops after the prelates issued an apology and retuned the vehicles. The PCSO was also prompted to apologize when it found out that no Pajeros were procured but other sports utility vehicles instead. –

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