Catholic Church Bishops corruption - Philippines PCSO probed ₱325-Million

A total of 325-million funding for the intelligence operations of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) was approved from 2008 to 2010, with 150 million spent in the first half of 2010 or five months before the May 10, 2010, synchronized elections.

This surfaced Thursday during the second day of the public hearing by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, chaired by Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, on disbursements by the PCSO, including 6.9 million for the purchase of six 4x4 vehicles allegedly for six dioceses/bishops of the Catholic Church and one religious organization.

The Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) funding for intelligence operations was revealed by Rosario Uriarte, former PCSO general manager, who said that she had submitted these PCSO intelligence projects to the Office of the President for approval and funding.

Guingona said his committee is not yet ready to say whether the financial assistance given by the PCSO to several bishops or dioceses of the Catholic Church to buy sports utility vehicles (SUVs) is legal or not.

Uriarte testified that the PCSO did not give Mitsubishi Pajeros to the Catholic Church but sent checks to religious leaders to buy 4x4 vehicles as requested for their charity and medical work in rugged, mountainous areas.

She stressed that the religious officials, in their requests to the PCSO, asked for these vehicles not for their personal use.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and the other senators – Franklin M. Drilon, Francis Escudero, Panfilo M. Lacson and Guingona - reminded Uriarte to be careful in her testimony as she linked former President, now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, to the questionable PCSO intelligence operations.

Uriarte claimed that all the documents regarding the PCSO's intelligence operations were submitted either to President Arroyo or to the office of the President.

She also claimed that she was present at Malacanang when the President signed the last two checks for the PCSOs intelligence operations before the May 10, 2010 presidential election.

Drilon asked why it was Uriarte who was allowed by the PCSO board to be the disbursing officer of the PCSO intelligence operations. He said it was Uriarte who signed the checks and encashed them.

The Commission on Audit (COA) confirmed Uriarte's statement that the President's approval is needed for the PCSO intelligence funding.

While Uriarte said the intelligence funds were used for the operations of its small town lottery operation, Enrile and Guingona asked why there has been no known arrests or cases filed in the course of the PCSOs intelligence operations that included, among others, donated medicines sometimes ending up in drug stores for sale even if they were labeled ''Donated by PCSO-Not for Sale;'' unwarranted or unofficial use of ambulances by beneficiaries-donees; unauthorized expenditures of endowment fund for charity patients and organizations; and, lotto and sweepstakes scams victimizing innocent people of winning the jackpot and selling tampered tickets as winning tickets.

''PCSO at all instances must be on guard and have ready available resources to conduct surveillance, discreet investigations, purchase of information and other related activities. With the use of intelligence fund, PCSO can protect its image and integrity of its operations,'' Uriarte said in her letter to then President Arroyo in their request for specific intelligence funding.

Enrile, a former Defense Minister during the Marcos administration , and Lacson, former Philippine National Police director-general during the Estrada administration, said the funding operations of the PCSO is different from the pro-forma intelligence operations of various government agencies.

Lacson asked the Guingona committee to again summon Uriarte at the Senate committee's closed door hearing on the secret operations of intelligence projects by the PCSO.

He noted that it was only Ray Roquero who did not answer to the query whether the past PCSO board knew the existence of the PCSO intelligence operations as handled by Uriarte.

Former PCSO Chairman Sergio Valencia testified that he was not aware of the details of the PCSO intelligence operations except that it was to confirm them.

Past PCSO officials said they had given 29 ambulances to congressmen. Enrile, however, asked why the PCSO had given 22 ambulances to Ilocos Sur while other provinces had one or none at all.

Manuel Morato, former PCSO board member, said the PCSO had given 3,600 ambulances when he was its chairman during the Ramos administration.

As this developed, Catholic prelates Thursday expressed willingness to return the SUVs given by the PCSO.

Among them was Butuan Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos, who was earlier named to have received a Montero Sport vehicle from the PCSO during the time of former President Arroyo.

When asked if he is willing to return the SUV, the prelate replied "no problem." He, however, refused to elaborate.

The Butuan prelate also expressed willingness to attend the ongoing Senate inquiry on the so-called "PCSO fund mess".

"No problem to face Senate, PNoy or PCSO," Pueblos said in a text message. Like Pueblos, Basilan Bishop Martin Jumoad is also willing to return the SUV (Mitsubishi Strada) that they bought using the money they received from the agency. 'If they want to get it, if PNoy wants to get it, it's ready. We can return it to them but they have to understand that this is the vehicle we are using for medical and relief operations," he said over radio.

Caloocan Bishop Deogracias Iniguez and Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes both agreed that those who received a vehicle from PCSO should just return it to the government to put an end to the controversy.

Caritas Manila executive director Father Anton Pascual is opposed to the idea of the bishops returning the vehicles. saying it's not their property.

"No. It's not theirs in the first place. They are caretakers of church properties like vehicles as stewards not owners. They should continue to use it to benefit the province of their assignment both in helping Christians and non-Christians alike," he said.

On Wednesday, the Palace said it is up to the bishops, who received SUVs from the PCSO, who should make the decision on whether to return or keep the vehicles.

Three Church leaders have been named as among the recipients of three SUVs from PCSO, namely, Fr. Adriano Ruiz of Cotabato as endorsed by Kidapawan Archbishop Romullo Valles, who received a Toyota Grandia; Basilan Bishop Martin Jumoad (Mitsubishi Strada); and Butuan Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos (Montero Sport).

Meanwhile, top officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Thursday they are willing to appear and testify before the Senate to set the record straight with regards to the statement made by a former PCSO official that the department received at least 20 million from the agency to used as "blood money" for four overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) on death row in Saudi Arabia.

"I do not remember that," Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Administration Rafael E. Seguis told Manila Bulletin in a text message. "I too was mentioned that I went to (former PCSO general manager Rosario) Uriarte to get money for Saudi OFWs. That is not true. That was for the OFWs in death row in Kuwait as blood money."

Blood money, or "diyya" in Islam, is money or some sort of compensation paid by an offender, usually a murderer, or his family to the family or kin of the victim in exchange for their forgiveness for the crime committed and thus save the suspect from possible execution. The amount varies from country to country and from case to case.

During Thursday's Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing, Uriarte said they used the agency's intelligence funds to give donations so that the OFWs who committed crimes wouldn't be sent to jail.

Uriarte said she specifically handed 5 million in cash for each of the OFWs on death row in Saudi Arabia to Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Esteban Conejos.

"We, Conejos and I, are ready to appear before the Senate if invited," Seguis said. "We will have the papers to support our official actions."

Also Thursday, the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) filed criminal charges against a former official of the PCSO for not declaring and paying income taxes for bribes he allegedly received from two PCSO advertisers.

The case against Manuel Garcia, former public relations officer of the PCSO, arose from the graft charges filed by two private public relations men before the Office of the Ombudsman (OMB).

Alexander Quisumbing and Ludovico Yuseco claimed that Garcia demanded "kickbacks" whenever they claimed payments for advertising placements in newspapers and broadcast media.

Quisumbing and Juseco alleged they were forced to pay the respondent 16.1 million and 12.61 million, respectively, in exchange for the payment of their advertising services for a five-year period.

Based on the charges, Henares said Garcia understated his gross earnings for the years 2006 to 2010 by more than 30 percent, or by 29 million, thus evading payment of deficiency taxes amounting to 18.9 billion, inclusive of interests and surcharges. (With reports by Leslie Ann G. Aquino, Roy C. Mabasa, Jun Ramirez, and Leonard Postrado)


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