Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Former Lakas congressmen had just pledged loyalty to P-Noy, but get attacked by PCSO next day

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 six or seven bishops of having received from the  PCSO in former President Macapagal Arroyo’s time donations in the form of service utility vehicles (SUVs), such as Pajeros, for their personal use. Later the PCSO changed its tune and said the vehicles were for "other purposes," but the inference is that the donations were condemnable acts. 

The PCSO attack is quite unjust and unfair. In the first place, the various churches in this country, and not just the Catholic Church, have been receiving aid in one form or another from various agencies of government since President Cory Aquino’s time, as they perform many tasks that government normally should undertake for the people. 

But if you listen to PCSO, it's as though the donations only took place in GMA's time, as pay-off for the bishops' support for her (the current PCSO leadership's reading of "support" for.GMA is quite off, for as a group the bishops were quite unfriendly, and some were even very hostile, to GMA; but they stopped short of calling for her ouster, doubtless because they realized that the alternative could be chaos. This was unforgivable, as far as anti-GMA leaders, especially the Hyatt 10, are concerned).


Let's hear it from Archbishop Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato, former CBCP President and one of its most credible  leaders. He stressed to this blogger that when Cory Aquino was already President, the Kidapawan Prelature that he headed asked Dr. Mita Pardo de Tavera, then PCSO chair (how we all miss the dignity and detachment from politics of the beautiful Mamita), for help in its community-based health program, and the request was granted. Quevedo narrated that when he was subsequently assigned to the Vigan Diocese, he asked President Ramos for help to train leaders for its rural cooperative in the mountain town of San Emilio, inhabited by many Indigenous Peoples, and FVR readily acceded from the "President's Social Fund."

In 2008, said Quevedo, "a full three years after the Garci tapes (thus, no way that PGMA could be accused of buying my support so that she would not be ousted in the wake of that scandal)," he requested PCSO for a service vehicle to help his Cotabato Diocese with its health program, social action for development and empowerment of rural communities, human development of its indigenous communities, etc. He said the service vehicle was granted by PCSO in 2009, and was also used for bringing sick people to hospitals when needed. But he laments that "the present PCSO now says it was given to me but it also chose not to mention the social action purpose for that vehicle." 

He said he gave these three examples of assistance from three different Presidents "to illustrate that donations to Bishops and their work to help the government alleviate the plight of the poor has been a 25-year practice."


Two questions immediately come to mind: Why is the PCSO attacking the bishops now?  Why is the Catholic Church being singled out? Weren’t forms of assistance given also to the other churches, such as the various Protestant sects and home-grown ones? Some bishops have challenged PCSO to make this disclosure too, but so far, no response. 

Some outspoken bishops have opined that the attacks against a number of them are the result of their unified stand against the RH bill, where P-Noy was perceived as beating some sort of retreat. Then too, as noted above, the CBCP as a body stopped short of asking GMA to step down in July 2005 and during two impeachment attempts against her; and recently one or two bishops have been critical of P-Noy’s one-year in office. 


All these "sins" are being given as reasons for the PCSO’s “expose” against the bishops, but  it’s hard to imagine that before Juico gave the go-signal to launch it 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 grave  consequences and shattering the longstanding partnership between the Church and the State. Sure, P-Noy’s people managed to bag a few headlines with the PCSO tirades, but they should remember that the bishops have a core- constituency, whereas P-Noy's is a fleeting one. 


Everyone who's familiar with the way the Church works knows that the dioceses perform services for  the people that government either is unable to do or these are not its top priority, perhaps owing to mismanagement of resources.  If one looks closely at the dioceses where these four-wheel drive SUVs were supposed to have gone, these are in remote hinterlands with rugged and very trying terrain---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.  Most of these are found in the poorest provinces and they serve many indigenous tribes. 

As Quevedo noted, at the grassroots level dioceses perform a multiplicity of “non-sectarian” services such as running parochial schools, livelihood training centers, nutrition and health programs, community organizing, etc.---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 show that most people would prefer donations to the Church instead of to politicians, as they feel surer that these are being used prudently and not in aid of reelection.   


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 heads above the water as they service very poor communities in the hinterlands. But this is true not only here but in other parts of the world. 

In the US, for instance, a country obsessively preoccupied with maintaining separation of church and state, the issue of whether to allow public funds to help parochial schools has been running in various courts for a long while now. But the trend in both state and federal supreme courts has been to relax the severity of this separation principle, as they see the need to help parish schools throughout the US, by means of vouchers in some states ranging from 1,000  to $5,000 per student, and equipment for the academic and non-religious teaching. 

Here the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) knows this situation only too well, as the one dozen or so bigger (or elite) schools concentrated in the big cities perpetually seek to help small struggling schools in the hinterlands, many of them parochial schools.

That a big to-do is being made about SUVs donated to a handful of bishops for hinterland dioceses is truly to miss the entire point of service by these ecclesiastics. A true disservice by PCSO!


 After firing at the Catholic Church hierarchy, now comes the PCSO accusing members of the House of Representatives who are supposedly close to former President Macapagal Arroyo, of having received many millions of pesos for their pet projects during her time. 

Ironically, however, many of those House members were in the news the day before as having abandoned GMA’s 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 in the NUP pledged full support for P-Noy's administration, for which he in turn was very thankful, coming as it did in the wake of the “nobody’s home” criticism of his administration.

Among the NUP members in the PCSO’s hit-list were party president Rudy Antonino, who allegedly got P5 million (this is peanuts in the juggling of billions in the House), and Bulacan Rep. Ma. Victoria Sy Alvarado, who supposedly got P8 million. Her husband, Bulacan governor Willie Alvarado, is one of NUP’s 18 governors.

These NUP stalwarts must now be furious at being  portrayed as rapacious politicians by PCSO. 


Is the PCSO pakawala ng administration, or is it another case  of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing in this era?  

From the way the public is being regaled by headline after headline, the pattern is being sustained all the way to P-Noy's SONA on July 25---attack and attack the previous administration and expose its supposed venalities, perhaps as a way of covering up for failings. These include 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 (DPWH Secretary Rogelio Singson announced yesterday that the PPP is being dropped), 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 associated with the GMA era, innocent people such as the bishops are maligned and slandered---thanks in part to the sensationalist press reportedly feeding on 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. 

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