MANILA, Philippines - The election lawyer of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on Friday urged Catholic bishops to abandon calls for Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) officials to resign for dragging the prelates to the PCSO fund mess.
Lawyer Romulo Macalintal said Catholic bishops who were hurt over the PCSO donations controversy must move on.
"Ang sabi ko nga sa kanila, yang mga bagay na yan ay kalimutan na natin. Panahon na ngayon ng pagpapatawad. Nagkaunawaan na yan. Let's move on. Let's not call for resignations. Ang sabi nila ang PCSO nagkasala sa mga bishops. No. Parehong may pagkukulang," he told radio dzMM.
Seven Catholic bishops came under fire for receiving financial aid and utility vehicles from the PCSO during the Arroyo administration. One prelate, Butuan City Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos, even requested a brand new Mitsubishi Montero from President Arroyo as a birthday gift in 2009.
Critics said President Arroyo used the donations to silence the Church while she fended off impeachment charges.
Last Wednesday, the 7 bishops told senators that they will return the donated vehicles to PCSO.
Fund-raising drive for bishops
Macalintal said he and former Manila Mayor Lito Atienza have launched a fund-raising drive to buy replacement vehicles for the bishops.
As of 4 p.m. Friday, they have already gathered a total of P808,250 including donations from parishioners in Quiapo Church.
Some of the donations came from Sen. Vicente Sotto (P200,000), Sen. Francis Escudero (P100,000), Radyo Veritas (P100,000) and the former President's son, Ang Galing Pinoy party-list Rep. Mikey Arroyo (P50,000).
"That's enough for about 3 second-hand vehicles. We need 7 so we are calling on car companies, instead of raffling of sales promotions, this is one way of promoting your good image also. Maybe you can help," Macalintal said.
The lawyer said he first thought of the idea after hearing the news about the controversy on the bishops' vehicles.
He said that while he could have easily raised P7 million from among his friends, he realized that the donated vehicles would be even more meaningful if the donations came from all kinds of people including the poor.
"Ang sanhi ng kontrobersya na ito ay ang pagsasama ng mga bishops sa mahihirap. Mga mahihirap ang sineserbisyuhan nila. Sabi ko dapat kumuha tayo ng tulong sa mahihirap, from all walks of life," he said.
Donations from citizens
On Friday, Macalintal and Atienza stayed near the Church of the Black Nazarene to raise funds for the bishops' vehicles.
"The candle vendors and those selling fans, they gave money even if it was just 2 pesos. I told them, you are the reason why these bishops are going to you. You are doing a good thing. You can say, that you have a part in buying cars for your bishops," he added.
Macalintal dismissed talk that the fund drive could have political connotations especially since he is the lawyer of the former President.
"I've been serving the Church for 27 years. That is why I know what they are doing, how hard it is to help our poor countrymen. Wag niyong lagyan ng kulay ang ginagawa namin," he said.
He also downplayed suggestions that the Catholic Church should provide the bishops the vehicles since it is a very rich institution.
"The Church continues to get donations not just here but it is also sent to those who need it. As long as someone wants to give, that is their obligation as Catholics to give to our church," he said.