A bishop and multimillion-peso donations

Aries C. Rufo

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By insiders' estimates, the Catholic Church-run Radio Veritas was able to raise about P100 million in donations in 1986. No accounting has been made

MANILA, Philippines – This is the first in a series of excerpts from the
upcoming book Altar of Secrets: Sex, Money, and Politics in the Philippine Catholic Church by veteran journalist Aries C. Rufo that Rappler is running this week. The book will be launched on Friday, June 7, at The Forum, FullyBooked at The Fort, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig, Metro Manila. Launch price is at P400; regular price at P450.

THE MEETING was called to order and, as in previous ones, Jaime Cardinal Sin, the patriarch of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Manila (RCAM), sat at the head of a long table. It was January 1987 and the board of directors of the archdiocese met for the first time that year. 

Sin, as the sole administrator of the properties and businesses of the RCAM, presided over the meeting. They were to discuss some financial matters and, of course, the forthcoming anniversary of the EDSA 1 “people power” revolution where Sin played a pivotal role.

After being apprised of the status of the RCAM businesses and properties, Sin was in high spirits. Clearly, he was satisfied with the financial reports. But he was more excited with the preparations for the EDSA 1 anniversary.

But one board member had something on his mind. He knew that one important item was never raised in the board meeting and the cardinal appeared to have forgotten about it. He waited for another board member to raise it during the meeting, but it never cropped up.

There had been talks within RCAM about huge donations received by the archdiocese for the repair and restoration of Radio Veritas, the Church-run radio station which had been instrumental in the downfall of dictator President Ferdinand Marcos in February 1986.

As Marcos’s world turned upside down in the heady days leading to the “people power” revolution, forces allied with him toppled the Radio Veritas transmitter in Malolos, Bulacan, and shut down the station on February 23, 1986.

The Catholic Church-owned radio station was a prime target. It had been broadcasting events and developments of the “people power” uprising and it was through this radio station that Sin rallied the people to protect the anti-Marcos forces holed up in Camp Crame and Camp Aguinaldo. “I would be happy if you can show them solidarity and support,” Sin’s voice reverberated over Radio Veritas.

The board member waited for the right time. He knew that timing was everything in dealing with the cardinal. He knew that Sin, who had a healthy appetite, would want to rush things, especially if lunch was about to be served. Finally, the meeting proceeded to discuss “other matters.” It was the moment he had been waiting for.

“Are we through? Can we have lunch already?” Sin said, looking forward to his favorite soup, a shark fin and abalone delicacy called “Buddha jumped over the fence.” That was the board member’s cue.

“Cardinal, you have been instrumental in helping trigger the downfall of President Marcos. People loved you for that and your popularity rating and moral ascendancy have risen to greater heights. They believed and trusted you and they were more than willing to answer your call for any help,” the board member said, trying to massage the cardinal’s ego.

“Proof of that was the astounding support that people gave to Radio Veritas when you asked them for donations to help repair the transmitter destroyed in Malolos, Bulacan. Maybe, since we are celebrating EDSA 1, it would be the right time to express our gratitude,” the board director said.

“Wonderful, wonderful, that’s a good idea. I like that,” Sin replied promptly. “And how do you propose to thank these people?”

The board director suggested that the RCAM put out a full-page advertisement in the newspaper thanking those who gave their donations – in whatever amount – and those who gave in kind.

But board member Bishop Teodoro Buhain, who was in charge of Radio Veritas’s domestic operations at that time, realized the proposal was a trap. Quickly interjecting, Buhain said the matter could be discussed in another meeting. “We can take that up in the next meeting. Anyway, we have more than a month to prepare,” the board member quoted Buhain as saying.

As it turned out, the proposal was never carried out and no newspaper ads were published identifying the generous donors of Radio Veritas. “Buhain never gave an accounting [of] how much money was raised for the restoration of Radio Veritas,” the source, who was in the meeting, said.

To this day, it is a nagging, multimillion-peso question that remains a mystery.

Cory Aquino’s plea

About a month after being installed into power, President Corazon Aquino, together with Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile and Sin, sought for public donations to help restore the damaged Radio Veritas station in Malolos. As reported by The New York Times on March 17, 1986,  the three EDSA 1 heroes sought P50 million in pledges during a day-long marathon broadcast.

This was not the first time that Radio Veritas raised money from public donations. In August 1983, following the assassination of Senator Benigno Aquino Jr.,  it appealed for funds because it had exceeded its budget for the extended coverage of Aquino’s assassination. Buhain raised P1 million for this.

In pleading for donations, Cory Aquino paid tribute to Radio Veritas’s role in installing her into power. “The voice of truth can no longer be heard in the Philippines,” Aquino was quoted as saying. “More than this, the only Catholic voice in Asia has been silenced. Friends from abroad, I hope, will come to the rescue of Radio Veritas.”

In his own taped message, Enrile, who was at the time still enjoying cordial relations with Aquino and Sin, said: “It was through Radio Veritas that we announced the effort launching the military organization to defy finally the oppressive grip of President Marcos and his clique. Without Veritas, it is unlikely that we would have succeeded….”

Ramos, who would later become president, reportedly donated 20 cases of beer for the volunteers who took the telephone calls, The New York Times reported.

With the Church enjoying tremendous goodwill, an avalanche of donations instantly poured in, with initial reports saying the RCAM was able to raise P20 million. But other sources familiar with the case said the Church was able to raise more or less P100 million.

From March to July of 1986, Buhain said the Church was able to collect P18 million from people from all walks of life. The prelate, who was then executive vice president of Radio Veritas, said individual donations ranged from P10 to P10,000. He even related one moving anecdote, that of a little child bringing her piggy bank and donating it to Radio Veritas. Such a touching example triggered other children to open their own piggy banks and donate their savings to Radio Veritas.

But after the hype and the publicity, nothing was heard of the fundraiser. There was no official accounting, no breakdown of donations, no figures on how much was collected and from whom.

Where did the money go? All this time, the missing money had been one of Buhain’s long-held secrets.

* * * 

Following his retirement, Buhain maintained a low profile, unlike [Bishop Teodoro] Bacani who continued to be very visible — in and out of the Church. He stayed in a retreat house in Tagaytay and did not attend the regular assembly of the CBCP, unlike other retired bishops.

We sought an interview with him and sent him a letter through a post office box number. He did not reply.

(A retired Archbishop, who provided the post office box number, said it was only through the post office box number that Buhain can be reached.) – Rappler.com 

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