The scandal broke out a few weeks ago and has sent shockwaves across the country, especially in Mindanao, one of the poorest regions of the country, where six of the seven prelates involved in the scandal live. Mgr Orlando B. Quevedo, archbishop of Isabela and former president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), is one of them.
The scandal was caused by revelations made by Margarita Juico, the new president of the Philippines Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), a government agency that runs lotteries. She accused the bishops of accepting luxury vehicles, including a Mitsubishi Pajero sport utility vehicle to favour the image of former President Gloria Arroyo.
A few days ago, the bishops asked for forgiveness for their mistake and returned the gifts in front of the Senate building (pictured). However, an editorial in CBCP News said that none of vehicles involved was expensive or an SUV. Instead, they were old, second-hand pickup trucks.
Some senators also noted that no rules regulating charity donations, which ban gifts to religious groups, were violated. The vehicles were used to help people, rather than proselytise or advance personal interests.
“There was a clear media attack against the Church by the new PCSO management,” sources said. Ms Juico is in favour of the controversial Reproductive Health bill, which the lottery corporation will fund if it is approved. According to some analysts, the lottery president used anti-catholic newspapers to discredit the Filipino Church.
For years, Catholic bishops have fought the proposed law, which promotes the use of condoms, the abortion pill and voluntary sterilisation.
In recent days, Ms Juico acknowledged that she went too far and that what she said was slanted. This has led some politicians to call on the government to extend formal apologies to the Bishops’ Conference for the damage to its reputation.
However, President Aquino today said he saw no need to apologise. At the same time, “the fact that senators showed moderation in this case is a sign that the Church wields much influence and enjoys great respect.”
The media attack aside, sources did say that some bishops have too close relations with some political circles. “Only a minority of prelates is involved, but that is enough to create a climate of division within the Church, especially among the faithful,” they lamented.
Most prelates remain close to their communities and pay close attention to their needs. However, some bishops think in political terms, criticise the government and preach against the system’s corruption.
“We hope that this scandal will lead us back to moral rigour, not only in the Church but also in politics,” the sources said, “with more attention paid to the problems of the country, especially poverty.” (S.C.)