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.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Margie Juico and Aleta Tolentino should resign NOW

Minutes after the bishops were allowed to leave the Senate session hall this morning, after it was proved that no Pajero was on the list of donated vehicles, a few outraged Catholic lay leaders faced TV and radio media and called for PCSO Chair Margie Juico to resign. Since then the Margie Juico Resign Movement (MJRM) has acquired a life of its own in the media, especially in the internet, and there will be no stopping that clamor.  As Ed Finlan put it in his email, if Juico has any delicadeza at this point, she should resign.

In fact, citizens around the country, including some PCSO employees, are asking President Aquino to fire Juico if she stonewalls the call for her resignation, as she brought such disservice to P-Noy. Recall that early on, Palace spokesperson Abigal Valte kept stressing it has nothing to do with the accusations against the bishops. The distortions as shown up in today’s hearings, however, only served to highlight either the oft-repeated charge of critics about the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing in this administration, or that “Nobody's Home.”


Above all, the false accusations about the Pajero donations peddled to the media by Juico and her sidekick, director Ma. Aleta Tolentino, have caused so much pain to the bishops and the more the Palace denies that it had nothing to do with those accusations, the more people won’t believe it. For these are not just the usual media suspects on payola---these are Archbishops and Bishops, including a former president of the CBCP who were subjected to intense ridicule from various citizens and groups that are only waiting to discredit them at every turn; and as they themselves stressed, some of their flock were "confused, disturbed and scandalized" at the luxury vehicles they supposedly got.

P-Noy's problem is that no one would believe that Juico would hurl these accusations at these ranking prelates without checking it first with Malacanang.


When her accusations were proved false in the Senate, Juico thought of blaming the COA report on the donation and then the media. But as COA Commissioner Heidi Mendoza pointed out sans emotion, there was only a very small paragraph in the 2009 COA report on that donation to the bishops---and no Pajero mentioned. Meaning, it was the Juico board that blew up the issue to embarrass the bishops for political reasons. 

After the bishops testified individually about how they got, not SUVs but utility pick-ups and vans, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile echoed the puzzlement of the senators---and the entire nation: how did the all the talk about Pajeros come about? Juico was then forced to admit she heard someone say that these were Pajeros and that stuck; the media spun the story around, reportedly with the help of a multi-million PR fund from PCSO. At that point the Senate gallery crowd booed loudly and Blue Ribbon Chair Teofisto Guingona III had to bang for order;  the crowd was visibly shocked and angered by the reckless irresponsibility of the PCSO chair in not even bothering to check her accusations---in the process trivializing the reputations of the bishops.

Did you bother to correct the wrong impression? Enrile then pressed Juico. She said she tried, but at that point Sen. Jinggoy Estrada (who had just arrived from abroad at 4 o’clock this morning), was quick to show on the screen recent news clippings  that still talked of the ‘Pajeros.’ In fact the Inquirer just yesterday headlined that the bishops will return  the “Pajeros” (Juico had a session with the Inquirer a few nights ago where obviously the editors devoured all the data she fed them, along with the good chow). All over TV and radio the Pajero issue raged,  reminding people of the adage that a lie repeated often enough will begin to sound like the truth.


For the media and the senators, the moment of truth, however, came when the bishops returned the “Pajeros” and had them parked in front of the Senate building this morning. Sources said the collective decision to return them was made at the CBCP closed-door conference last weekend and the vehicles traveled from the dioceses of Abra,  Bontoc and Ilocos Sur to the Senate in time to be Exhibit A at this morning’s hearing. These included a very humble looking 1997 van and three pick-ups---no Pajeros. The bishops later revealed that the Mindanao dioceses involved, namely Cotabato, Basilan, Zamboanga and Butuan, returned their donated vehicles to the PCSO  offices in the big island.

I had a chance to talk to the drivers of the Luzon vehicles as they sat  “guarding” them, and they stressed that 4-wheel drives, not luxury cars, were needed in their terrain.  As the driver of Bontoc Bishop Rodolfo Beltran stressed, it takes 11 hours to negotiate from Manila to Bontoc, climbing hills and mountains.  The drivers were quite upset about this “Pajero” controversy because they know the rugged terrain their vehicles had to negotiate. The driver of Abra bishop Leopoldo Jaucian recounted how his vehicle could have been swallowed up by swirling currents in Abra, were it not for that PCSO 4-wheel drive.


All the bishops were given the chance to make their statements, where they narrated how the vehicles were used to respond to calamity victims, indigenous peoples, sick patients being rushed to hospitals, etc. A number of people in the gallery shed tears as the prelates spoke with humility about the crucifixion they were undergoing at the hands of their critics.  The senators who were so vociferous in the previous hearing were suddenly meek and gentle as lambs.

Aside from the testimony of Heidi Mendoza, the observation offered by Sen. Tito Sotto helped enlighten the senators about the vehicles. Some critics were exploiting the fact that the vehicles were registered in the name of the bishops---clear proof, said they, that the prelates were using those for their personal need. But Sotto pointed out something what lawyers know---that the vehicle registration has to be made out to the bishops as “corporation sole" of the diocese (this legal term refers to the fact that investments of the dioceses had to be made out in the name of the bishops, as provided by law, and not under the dioceses; this applied to registration of vehicles as required by the LTO as well as to investments of the dioceses; but this does not mean that the bishops own the vehicles or the investments).

As the bishops themselves stressed, they inherited some vehicles from their predecessors, while the PCSO vehicles would be left to their successors---until their collective decision to return them all was made. Such is the detachment from worldly goods practiced by Church people if they remain true to the Christian spirit.


Sen. Miriam Santiago came in yellow and everyone thought she was out to demolish the bishops; but in the elevator she ran into former Sen. Francisco Tatad and wife Fenny, and after their beso-beso, she told the Tatads, “I’d like to introduce myself. I am for the bishops.” In her long speech at the hearing she demolished the argument of anti-bishop elements especially among her colleagues, that receiving donations from the PCSO violates the Constitution.

Lamenting the hypocrisy of attacking the puny PCSO donation to the bishops, Santiago called for an investigation of the "false report about the so-called 'Pajero Bishops,' where it turned out that "no Pajeros were involved." The feisty senator also disclosed a 2009 COA report about a P1.548 billion deposit made by the PSCO board in a private bank, "without authorization," and contrary to the DOF Order No. 2705 that mandates deposits only in government banks (“Ang swerte naman ng bangkong ito”). She recommended criminal prosecution of all PCSO officials responsible for that deposit, even as she also decried the gargantuan annual P7.603 billion fund "that's made available to the sticky fingers of the PCSO board." 

In reply to the senators who queried her on these two allegations of Sen. Santiago, Juico promised to submit documents. This bears close watching. 
Like many Senate witnesses, the bishops realized that it’s always good to have the feisty lady senator on their side--- for she was quick not only with her wit but also with her flashes of temper at the hypocrisy of the accusations against them.


This terrible episode highlights the frightening manipulation of the media and their gross irresponsibility in not checking out facts (for instance, how could P6.9 million or even P8 million, figures bandied around by the PCSO as having been used for the bishops’ vehicles, buy seven Pajeros?). 

But it also portends badly for P-Noy who now has to contend with the bishops’ and their flocks'---resentment at their shabby treatment. As Archbishop Orlando Quevedo put it, they are now forced to examine the rules of partnership with the government, as “mistrust” has entered into that relationship.

Obviously the bishops were, to quote Standard’s Emil Jurado, mere “collateral damage” in this controversy, and the PCSO had aimed to weaken them in the fight over the RH bill. But perhaps more important to this administration, it had to use the bishops to capture media attention; but the real target was to highlight the huge intelligence fund of the Uriarte board at PCSO and pin down former President Arroyo on its alleged abuses. Right on cue, two days ago two representatives filed charges for plunder against GMA and former PCSO GM Rosario Uriarte before the Ombudsman on the intel funds.


It would take a while to heal this “mistrust” of government in the bishops’ heart, and P-Noy would be on the losing end as he has a fickle constituency, while the bishops have a constant one, albeit somewhat dwindling. The bishops were hurt to their soul at the terrible shaming they were subjected to, thanks to Margie and Aleta.

But it also gives the CBCP the golden opportunity to do a soul-searching of its role on this earth---on the need for a spirit of Christ-like detachment from worldly goods even as it continues its mission among the poor and the marginalized. As a reader of this blog put it, however, the lamentable PCSO episode should be purifying for all---the bishops and we their flock.

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  1. This is an enlightening article, so different from the news I've been getting from the Inquirer, many of whose writers really had it in for the Bishops and the Church. Regarding detachment from worldy goods, why only the Bishops? ALL Catholic faithful must strive to be detached from worldly goods. The real scandal here is that the Bishops had to beg the PCSO for funds to buy the vehicles they need to reach their constituents, when there are so many Catholics in this country wallowing in material wealth. Perhaps if we Catholics had not been remiss in supporting our Church, this sad, divisive event could have been avoided.

  2. P-noy should remove Margie Juico & her Cronies in PCSO binaboy nila ang isang institusyon na tanging inaasahan ng mga mamamayang mahihirap sa bansa, kung sakaling mabuwag ang PCSO o madismantle saan na sila tatakbo? sa mga politikong ipokrito na nakakasakop sa kanila? na walang inaabangan kundi paano kikita ng malaki at sino ang ipapalit nila sa pwesto pag natapos ang termino nila? kung paano babalimbing? P-NOY IDILAT MO MATA MO SA MGA IPINUWESTO MO PATUNAYAN MO NA HINDI KA BUGOK MAMUNO AT DI NASAYANG ANG BOTO NG MARAMI....

  3. Happy Birthday Bishop Pueblos! It was all one big misunderstanding. We. Are. Sorry! Enjoy your brand new 4x4 Mitsubishi Montero. You didnt rate a Pajero!

  4. Some people couldn't just swallow their mistake...nag sorry na nga yung matanda at ibinalik na yung montero nag happy birthday ka na naman this time quoting the montero... dean ka pa ba rin ba? di ba dedo ka na??!!

  5. What can we expect from an anti-religionist like Bocobo. Basta simbahan walang gagawing tama, di ba Dean?

  6. watch the exclusive VSPAN.asia webcast interview that started it all MORATO vs. JUICO - http://www.MORATO.vspan.asia

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