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 17, 2011

The piso-piso for the bishops’ vehicles---symbol of people’s outrage

Last Friday at Plaza Miranda in Quiapo, which has been the traditional sumbungan ng bayan, people high and low came to donate their piso-piso or their checks to the group of former Mayor Lito Atienza, famous election lawyer Romulo Macalintal and Dr. Ed Capulong. The three lay leaders are raising the sum of P8 million to replace the vehicles that the bishops had returned to the Senate or to PCSO agencies in Mindanao after last Wednesday's Senate hearing. The Quiapo vendors donated small sums from their day’s earnings, while a man came in a taxi all the way from Quezon City as he had heard of the fund-raising over radio. Some businessmen donated checks running into a couple of hundred thousands and to date over a million pesos have been raised.



According to Atienza and Macalintal, the fund-raising idea came to them last Tuesday after hearing the bishops' intention to return the PCSO vehicles, and then and there they launched the "Fund for Church Unity" (check out its Facebook Page) at the CBCP Kapihan in Intramuros. The group has been invited to Cebu to raise funds there, after which they intend to go to Bacolod. They also plan to take their fund drive to various school campuses, where they hope some  students would part with their merienda money for this good cause. This Sunday, July 24, Romy Macalintal will turn 64 and he plans to convert the celebration with family and friends also into a fund-raising for the bishops.

As Atienza and Macalintal note, the response to the fund-drive has been heart-warming. The reason is that it represents not only the sympathy of people for the maligned bishops but also their outrage at the malicious twisting of facts about the vehicle donation to the bishops and the manipulation of the news by the PCSO management, to   suit its obvious political ends. 


Over the weekend I went through various newspapers in order to try to trace how the so-called Pajero Bishops’ controversy began and how it progressed. It began apparently as a very small item in the 2009 COA report about a donation to the bishops, and it would not have surfaced by itself after more than two years had there been no insidious plot to use it for the current board’s political designs. 

As Sen. Miriam Santiago pointed out in her opening remarks last Wednesday, written at the face of each of the PCSO checks for the bishops’ vehicles, which totaled a puny P6.9 million, were the words: “purchase of one unit 4X4 service vehicle to be used by the diocese in its various community and health programs.” It was clear, said Santiago, that the vehicles were to be service vehicles and "If there is any benefit for the bishop and the diocese it is merely incidental." As COA Commissioner Heidi Mendoza testified at last Wednesday’s Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing, nowhere was there any mention of Pajeros in the COA 2009 report.


Judging from the newspapers I perused, the plot to spin the Pajero story was made last month, so that by early this July all the newspapers were screaming about the "Pajero Bishops." Interestingly, however, after the truth was established in last Wednesday’s hearing that there was not a single Pajero among the vehicles donated to the bishops, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile grilled PCSO Chair Margie Juico on how the Pajero story ever began, and she quickly blamed the COA report. But wasn't her propaganda machinery (said to have been funded with half a billion pesos) the one that spun that story in the media about the "luxury vehicles" as reward for the "Arroyo bishops"---in clear violation of the separation of Church and State? 

After Heidi Mendoza stressed, however, the innocuousness of the donation item in that COA report, Juico then shifted to blaming the media themselves, stressing that she never said anything about "Pajeros." But in the YouTube, people outraged by the humiliation of the bishops quickly posted two film clips of Juico. The first caught her telling a media forum in early July, “Sana naman iyong pinambili ng Pajero, marami na sanang natulungan iyon.” The second clip showed her at the Senate hearing telling Enrile, UNDER OATH, “Your Honor, I don’t recall having said “Pajero.” 

The morning after that hearing GMA’s top commentator, Mike Enriquez, was so infuriated by Juico’s lie that he blurted out in his program that the network has a number of videos that caught her repeating the Pajero spin.


Sen. Miriam Santiago already demolished the argument of her colleagues that the use of the PCSO-donated vehicles was illegal and unconstitutional, and no one in the Senate dared raise a pipsqueak to rebut her. People see clearly that the spin was made to weaken the bishops in the RH controversy; but that ultimately the PCSO board's focus was on the alleged misuse of the huge intelligence fund by the previous board, in the hope that this issue would send former President Macapagal Arroyo to jail pronto. 

That the bishops' reputations were besmirched without basis has triggered outrage in the provinces, especially among Church-based organizations. So many people have called for Margie Juico’s resignation and as Ed Finlan said in his email, if she had any delicadeza, she should have resigned right after the Senate hearing. As the bishops' arch-critic, Carlos Celdran, was seen speeding away in his car after the hearing, some angry Catholic lay leaders demanded right outside the session hall that Juico resign because of the faux pas over the Pajero issue. Thus was born the Margie Juico Resign Movement.

But Juico is kapit-tuko and continues to feign innocence (“Did we do anything wrong?”she continues to tell media through text). With a limp “regrets” at the Senate when the truth finally emerged about the Pajeros, and still blaming COA, she instead defiantly unleashed her side-kick, Ma. Aleta Tolentino, to attack the “unscrupulous bishops” anew last Saturday in the Inquirer. Tolentino, who herself faced a June 3, 2003 warrant of arrest by the NBI for swindling and estafa, as ordered by Judge Anorio Pozas in RTC Criminal Case No. 8477-01-C in connection with the collapse of her pre-need company (she claims to be on provisional release), lambasted the bishops for yielding to “bribery and temptation” and called them the "rust that will destroy the Church."

In the meantime, Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda called the whole sordid Pajero affair which has shaken the nation “ a 'minor matter' compared to other problems facing the nation." 


There is a sense of unreality about the way the Aquino administration has handled this controversy.   P-Noy, refusing to even acknowledge the wrong his people did in dragging the bishops' names into the mud, is standing by Juico, following the year-old tradition of this administration to uphold the 3-K Principle (Kaibigan, Kaklase and Kabarilan), in the grand manner of Amalgamated Inc.'s bosom friend, LTO Chief Virginia Torres, and Rico Puno of the Luneta fiasco fame. Juico was the late President Cory's long-time lady-in-waiting.

But I wonder if P-Noy realizes the shock, grief and hurt the nation feels over what had happened. In archdioceses and dioceses around the country are found legions of church-based organizations, many of which had campaigned for him because he is Cory’s son. But these parish folks also recognize injustice wherever it rears its ugly head, and they are truly angry at what was done to the bishops. This issue could galvanize the parish folks into untangling that support for P-Noy, as nothing else can, amid his declining ratings and reports of military agitation against him after only one year in office. 

Already the issue has galvanized the 101-member CBCP, judging from its tremendous show of support at the Senate hearing, led by retired Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, the outgoing CBCP president, Archbishop Nereo Odchimar, and the incoming president, Archbishop Jose Palma of Cebu (formerly of the Diocese of Calbayog and later of Palo, Leyte). In times of real crisis for P-Noy, which is not difficult to foresee, the CBCP might not rally to him the way it did for his mother. 


One cannot truly be that upset over the President’s playing deaf to this issue, as he probably--- mercifully---doesn’t understand the depths of this issue or its grave political implications for his administration. But those who care for him, such as Lingayen Archbishop Socrates Villegas (who accompanied Cory Aquino to Malacanang on July 7, 2005, when she demanded the resignation of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo---and was instead shown the door), should convince P-Noy to give up Juico and Tolentino for the sake of the nation’s unity.  As Archbishop Soc himself put it, it’s not enough that a leader has integrity; he must also have vision, for a leader not to have vision is to commit "treachery" to his people. Moreover, said the prelate, a leader must unite his people. Strong reminders from Archbishop Soc.

The cost to P-Noy of keeping the two PCSO officials will be too great. And Mar Roxas, his supposed anointed for 2016, could be collateral damage.

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  1. Mar Roxas - collateral damage?
    He damaged himself enough by acquiring damaging collateral, Korina.
    Let them live happily, but by themselves. No reason to drag the Philippines into their marriage.
    Filipinos are suckers for fairy tale weddings, but no longer for narcissistic First Ladies. The truth is out, and the con is an ongoing affair, care of the abs-cbn Rock org.

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