Philippines bishops return cars to quell controversy

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A 2009 Mitsubishi Pajero Sport, one of the cars donated to the Church. Credit: Tom BKK

Several Philippine bishops have decided to return state-donated cars after recent media scrutiny. They  did so explaining that the vehicles have not been for personal use but for Church-operated missions.

“Just return the vehicles to put an end to this issue,” Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez of Kalookan said. “Not doing so will only fuel speculations.”

The bishops decided to return the cars after discussing allegations that some bishops accepted them as bribes at their July 8-10 plenary assembly in Manila.

The current head of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office accused some bishops of receiving donations and vehicles from former President Gloria Arroyo in exchange for their political patronage. Arroyo allegedly gave the gifts through the office during a time when she was facing a threat of removal from the presidency due to accusations of corruption.

Sweepstakes office leaders said an audit showed that 6.9 million Philippine pesos – around $160,000 U.S. dollars –  in charity funds were used to buy vehicles upon the request of some bishops. The sweepstakes administration said that such donations violate a law prohibiting the use of government money for religious purposes.

Archbishop Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato argued in response to the charges that many Catholic institutions have long been asking for financial aid from the state-owned lottery agency for their social projects. He said the practice can be traced from the time of the late President Corazon Aquino.

The Cotabato archbishop said the sweepstakes donations are intended for social services, poverty alleviation and socio-economic development.

The accusations of bribery have caused some to believe in the possibility of a smear campaign against the country's bishops – given their outspoken stance against a proposed bill pushing widespread distribution of birth control and mandatory sex education in schools.

Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon said that recent national media coverage has made it “appear that the bishops personally used those vehicles when the bishops didn’t.”

Basilan Bishop Martin Jumoad said he is willing to return the Mitsubishi Estrada that his diocese bought using the financial aid they received from the state lottery in 2009.

“If they want to get it, it’s ready. We can return it to them,” Bishop Jumoad said.

The bishop reiterated that the pick-up utility vehicle is being used not as his personal car but for medical and relief operations in Basilan.

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