The PCSO under chair Margie Juico appears to have gone berserk. In a series of headline hogging releases, PCSO spokesperson Aleta Tolentino, Juico’s assistant, accused several bishops of having received from the PCSO in former President Macapagal Arroyo’s administration dole-outs in the form of service utility vehicles (SUVs), such as Pajeros, for their dioceses.
The PCSO attack is quite unjust, for in the first place, the various churches in the Philippines have been receiving aid in one form or another from various agencies of government since President Cory Aquino’s time. Two questions immediately come to mind: why is the PCSO leveling these attacks at the bishops now? Why is the Catholic Church being made the object of these attacks? Weren’t forms of assistance given also to the other churches, such as the various Protestant sects and home-grown ones?
Some outspoken bishops have opined that the attacks on a few of them are the result of their unified stand against the RH bill, where P-Noy was perceived as beating a retreat of some sort. Then too, the fact that the CBCP as a body stopped short of asking GMA to step down in July 2005 and during the impeachment attempts against her, and now one or two bishops have been critical of P-Noy’s one-year in office, are listed down as “sins” of the ecclesiastics.
These are reasons being given for the PCSO’s “expose.” But at any rate, it’s hard to imagine that before chair Margie Juico gave the go-signal to launch it against the bishops (including the credible retired Archbishop Orlando Quevedo, former CBCP president, who denied the allegation against him outright), P-Noy was not consulted. Something as big and serious as this charge could not have been undertaken without his knowledge.
P-Noy, however, should realize that he cannot sustain this battle against the Church without suffering in credibility, for people at the grassroots see and realize that the Church has always been a partner of the government in nation-building. Sure, with the PCSO’s attacks, P-Noy’s people manage to bag a few headlines here and there against the bishops, but in the long run it’s the President who loses the cooperation of these prelates.
Everyone who has examined the way the church works at the local level knows that these PCSO-donated vehicles are not exclusively for the bishops’ use, but for their dioceses which perform services to the people that government either is not able to do or these are not its top priority, perhaps due to limitation of resources. If one looks closely at the dioceses where these SUVs were supposed to have gone, it becomes obvious that these are in remote hinterlands with very rugged and trying terrain, such as Abra (a province of so many streams and rivers that either one rides a carabao or in a super-tough vehicle), Basilan, Cotabato, Butuan and Zamboanga in Mindanao, Bontoc in the Cordilleras and in the Bicol region.
People at the grassroots level know only too well that dioceses perform a multiplicity of “non-sectarian” services to their people outside of the purely proselytizing, such as running parochial schools, livelihood training centers, nutrition and health programs, community organizing---all of which, to quote Fr. Anton Pascual of the CBCP, fall under the generic term of “the common good.” Actually if a survey were taken, it would doubtless turn out that most people would prefer donations to the Church instead of to the politicians as they would feel sure that these funds are used prudently and rarely to glorify the recipient institution.
We in the metropolis can only see the big archdioceses such as Manila and Cebu, but in reality many dioceses are struggling to keep their head above the water as they service very poor communities. But this is true not only here but in other parts of the world. In the US, for instance, a country that is obsessively preoccupied with maintaining the separation of church and state, the issue of whether to allow public funds to help the parochial schools has been running for a long while now, but the trend both in the state and federal Supreme courts is to relax the severity of the separation of church and state principle, as they see the need to help out these schools run by various Catholic parishes throughout the US, by means of vouchers for students of as little as $1,000 per student, and equipment for the academic and the non-religious teaching of these schools.
In our country, the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) knows this situation only too well, as the one dozen or so bigger schools perpetually seek to help the small struggling schools in the hinterlands, many of them parochial schools.
After firing at the Catholic Church hierarchy, now comes the PCSO accusing a number of members of the House of Representatives supposedly close to the former President, of having received many millions of pesos for their pet projects. Ironically, many of those House members were in the news the day before as having abandoned GMA’s political party, Lakas-Kampi, to form a new party called National Union Party (NUP), led by Nueva Ecija Rep. Rodolfo Antonino as its president. The 32 representatives and 18 governors forming the NUP pledged full support for President Aquino’s administration, for which P-Noy in turn was quoted as very thankful, coming as it did in the wake of the “Nobody’s home” criticism of his administration.
Among the NUP members who were hit in the PCSO’s hit-list of congressmen’s list, aside from Antonino (who got P5 million), was Bulacan Rep. Ma. Victoria Sy Alvarado, who got P8 million, whose husband, provincial governor Willie Alvarado, is one of NUP’s 18 governors. Now what will the PCSO do---recall its press release? These NUP stalwarts must be furious now to be portrayed as rapacious politicians by PCSO, and it’s not remote that they would be among those who will walk out in the middle of the State of the Nation Address on July 25.
Is the PCSO pakawala ng administration, or is it another case again of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing in this administration?
Apparently the pattern is being sustained all the way to the SONA later this month---attack and attack the previous administration and expose its supposed venalities, in order to cover up for many things. Among these are the lack of an economic program and direction of the government, the failure of the much-touted Private-Public Partnership (PPP) project to take off, and the grumblings of the foreign chambers over the cancellation of contracts entered into by the past administration.
In the process of steam-rolling all those who were associated with the GMA era, innocent people such as the bishops are maligned and slandered, and they seem helpless at this point in defending themselves, especially with much of the sensationalist press feeding at the PCSO’s largesse. The bishops are being asked at this time to be truly Christ-like and offer their current sufferings as expiation for the nation’s sins, but they also have to explain their side in the interest of truth and justice.