Sunday, 10 July 2011

Of Bishops and Pajeros

Alvin Capino
Manila Standard

Bishop bashing is the favorite sports nowadays in the light of the controversy on the alleged misuse of the funds of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office by the previous administration.

But it would seem that the criticisms against the Catholic bishops and the Philippine Catholic Church are unfair and sometimes only half true.

Indeed there might be basis for the Catholic bishops to feel that they are being singled out for the attacks. As a Catholic Church official correctly pointed out, the report of the Commission on Audit showed a P1.5-billion private account of the PCSO which is not authorized by the Department of Finance. There are also questionable expenses to the tune of P1.9 billion but the focus of the controversy appears to be on the P6.9 million donation to the Catholic Church.

Perhaps Blue Ribbon Committee chair Teofisto Guingona III can help put things in perspective by acceding to the request of Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines president, Tandag Bishop Nereo Odchimar to invite the bishops to the Senate hearing so that they can air their side.

It would seem that the explanation of the bishops is lost in the media frenzy. Perhaps their appearance at the Blue Ribbon committee might help clear things up.

For example, the side of Butuan City Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos, who has been one of the principal targets of the frenzied media bashing for asking former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for a 4X4 Pajero, has been lost in the shouting of those who want to crucify him.

A Catholic Church official correctly pointed out that detractors of the Bishop of Butuan are glossing over is the fact that Bishop Pueblos is not only the bishop of a huge diocese encompassing the provinces of Surigao del Sur, Surigao del Norte, Agusan del Sur and Agusan del Norte. He has also been a member of the Caraga peace and order council and was a member of other government-created bodies like the Zenarosa Commission that was tasked to dismantle private armies in the region.

It goes without saying that Bishop Pueblos, who is apparently one of the pet peeves of Malacañang nowadays because of his critical comments on President Aquino, is active in community and charitable work.

Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Vidal has clarified that despite impressions created by media reports, the vehicles donated by PCSO to some Catholic bishops were not luxury vehicles and all of these vehicles, as well as other PCSO donations, were used for projects for the poor.

Vidal detailed the use and nature of the donations given to the so-called “Pajero 7” Bishops.

He said Bontoc-Lagawe Bishop Rodolfo Beltran was given a P600,000 PCSO donation in April 2007. Part of the money was used to purchase a 10-year old Nissan Pathfinder pick-up amounting to P280,000 which was used for medical missions for far flung areas in the diocese. The rest of the funds was used for the Alay Kapwa programs of the diocese.

He cited the case of Abra Bishop Leopoldo Jaucian who received a donation of P1.129 million in January 2009. The money was used to buy a second-hand Mitsubishi pick-up to transport people and material for various projects in the diocese.

Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo was reported to have purchase a Pajero from a donation from PCSO but Cardinal Vidal said what was actually bought was a van and the rest of the donation was used by the Social Action Center for distribution of medicine and other relief goods during calamities in Maguindanao, North Cotabato, Cotabato City and Shariff Kabungsuan.

A Pajero was supposed to have been bought by Basilan Bishop Martin Jumoad but what was actually bought was a pick-up used for community work in depressed areas in the province.

He said Bishops Romulo Valles of the Archdiocese of Zamboanga bought a Toyota van while Bishop Ernesto Salgado bought an Isuzu utility vehicle for their respective Social Action Centers from the PCSO donation. The remainder of the donations was used for various medical outreach programs in poor communities in their diocese as the other bishops had done.

The Catholic Church in the Philippines has been the partner of the government in rendering assistance to various depressed communities from medical missions to relief operations and many others.

It is right that when there are opportunities government agencies, like the PCSO, should help the Church in its charitable work.


Reading again the open letter of best-selling author Steve Ray to Filipino Catholics is a welcome respite from all the negative media reports and commentaries.

We would like to thank our friend and classmate lawyer Emi Sison for the sending again via email the letter of Steve Ray who wrote the popular books Crossing the Tiber (his conversion story), Upon This Rock (on the papacy) and John’s Gospel (a comprehensive bible study guide).

The open letter is heartwarming and makes me proud to be a Catholic and Filipino. Here it is:

We stepped into the church and it was old and a bit dark. Mass had just begun and we sat toward the front. We didn’t know what to expect in Istanbul, Turkey. I guess we expected it to be a somber Mass but quiet and somber it was not – I thought I heard angels joyously singing behind me.

The voices were rich, melodic and beautiful. What I discovered as I spun around to look did not surprise me because I had seen and heard the same thing in other churches around the world. It was not a choir of angels with feathered wings and halos but a group of delightful Filipino Catholics with smiles of delight and joy on their faces as they worshiped God and sang His praised. I had seen this many times before in Rome, in Israel, in the United States and other countries.

Filipinos have special traits and they are beautifully expressed as I gazed at the happy throng giving thanks to God. What the special traits which characterize these happy people? I will share a few that I have noticed – personal observations – as I have traveled around the world including the Philippines.

FIRST, there is a sense of community, of family. These Filipino Christians did not sit apart from each other in different aisles. They sat together closely. They didn’t just sing quietly, mumbling, or simply mouthing words. No, they raised their voices in harmony, together as though they enjoyed the sense of unity and communion among them. They are family even if they are not related.

SECOND, they have an inner peace and joy which is rare in the world today. When most of the world’s citizens are worried and fretful, I have found Filipinos to have joy and peace – a deep sense of God’s love that over shadows them. They have problems too, and many in the Philippines have less material goods than others in the world, yet there is still a sense of happy trust in God and love of neighbor.

THIRD, there is love for God and for his Son Jesus that is almost synonymous with the word Filipino. There is also something that Filipinos are famous for around the world – their love for the Blessed Mother. Among the many Filipinos I have met, the affectionate title for Mary I always her from their lips is ‘Mama Mary.’ For these gentle folks Mary is not just a theological idea, a historical person or a statue in a church – Mary is the mother of their Lord and their mother as well, their ‘mama’.

The Philippines is a Catholic nation – the only such nation in Asia – and this wonderful country exports missionaries around the world. They are not hired to be missionaries, not official workers of the church. No, they are workers and educations, doctors, nurses and housekeepers that go to other lands and travel to the far reaches of the earth, and everywhere they go and take the joyous gospel of Jesus with them. They make a somber Mass joyful when they burst into song. They convict the pagan of sin and they always keep the love of Jesus and the Eucharist central in their lives.

My hope and prayers, while I am here in the Philippines sharing my conversion story from Baptist Protestant to Roman Catholic, is that the Filipino people will continue to keep these precious qualities. I pray they will continue loving their families, loving the Catholic Church, reading the Bible, loving Jesus, his Mother and the Eucharist as many other religions and sects try to persuade them to leave the Church, may God give them the wisdom to defend the Catholic faith.

As the world tempts them to sin and seek only money and fame and power, may God grant them the serenity to always remember that obedience to Christ and love for God is more important than all the riches the world can offer.

May the wonderful Filipino people continue to be a light of the Gospel to the whole world.

Be a proud Filipino.

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