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Big-buck deals rock Church-based PPCRV

Lipa, Dagupan archbishops cut ties with watchdog group The diocese of Dagupan announced Monday that it was joining the archdiocese of Lipa in cutting ties with the poll watchdog Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting, amid unconfirmed reports that a high-ranking official of the group was engaged in multi-million-peso deals to sell supplies to the Commission on Elections. In announcing the decision to form a separate watchdog group, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz was silent on why he joined Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles in breaking ties with the PPCRV. But an unimpeachable source told the Manila Standard that some bishops were protesting a conflict of interest within the group. “In deference to (former Ambassador to the Vatican Henrietta) Tita de Villa who has been very loyal to the Church, the bishops quietly opted out, save for a few, who openly announced it but also choosing not to make public the real reason,” the source said. The source said the bishops could not risk being accused of being branded as hypocrites for not protesting or condemning the corruption allegedly being committed by an official of the watchdog group, which was supposed to monitor the performance of the Comelec. The source said the conflict of interest was brought to De Villa’s attention, but she simply sent word to the bishops that her “hands were tied” and that the PPCRV official involved was no longer allowed to be involved in the canvassing of votes. Despite the assurance, however, Arguelles still opted to cut ties with the PPCRV. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines-National Secretariat for Social Action also cut links with PPCRV, saying it would work with the National Movement for free Elections instead. De Villa said Monday it is “business as usual” despite decision of the bishops to leave her group. “We do not treat what happened as a stumbling block. We just need to work harder,” De Villa said. She also denied suggestions that she or her daughters had any business dealings with the Comelec, or that her group was partisan. “Our voter’s education is non-partisan, meaning we are not imposing on people who to vote or not to vote for,” she said. Asked to comment on the departure of the bishops, she added: “We don’t force anybody here. This is voluntary. Anybody can leave the PPCRV anytime if they wish to do some other work.” Arguelles on Monday warned of “automated cheating” in the 2013 midterm polls because of the failure of the Commission on Elections to address issued raised against the use of precinct count optical scan machines or PCOS. Arguelles said he received a report before the Holy Week that some PCOS machines were recovered in a hotel in Tuguegarao. “I trust automated elections but apparently there’s reason to believe there can be automated cheating,” Arguelles said in a television interview. “Is this a repeat of 2010? Is there a real plan to subvert the will of the people?” he added. Arguelles said he has lost confidence in the PPCRV and criticized the group’s “objectivity” in performing its duties as poll watchdog. The Lipa prelate also questioned De Villa’s decision to give a thumbs up to the PCOS machines despite reports of defects. He criticized the appointment of former Comelec commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal as PPCRV national vice president, when he was one of the officials behind the implementation of the PCOS machines during the 2010 elections. When sought for comment, Cruz said he had nothing personal against the PPCRV but said it would be good to tap the dioceses’ own people, since the Catholic Church remained in conflict with the Palace, particularly over the government’s support for the Reproductive Health Law. Cruz said the conflict grew more acute when President Benigno Aquino III vetoed the “Magna Carta for the Poor” that had been passed by both houses of Congress. “I respect and support Archbishop Arguelles’ position. I may not be aware of his reasons but I see the logic in his move that it is best that the Church should not risk compromising its independence and moral high ground considering that the Palace is bent on doing things to undermine the Church and so we would rely on our own group of people to carry out the education campaign and ensuring that the integrity of the elections are preserved,” Cruz told the Manila Standard. Cruz said the decision was not made by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, but left to the individual bishops. “The name alone suggests that the PPCRV is church-based. It is parish-based. Parish Pastoral Council. And so the officials must lead by example, not use its influence to make money or for personal gains,” the source said. Cruz said some of the 90 members of the influential Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines believed that a wedge had developed between the Palace and the Comelec, and some parishes that waged a campaign against the candidates who voted for the Reproductive Health Law, which the Church opposes. Most of those who voted in favor of the RH bill belonged to the President’s Team Pnoy and were branded by Church officials as Team Patay (Team Death). The Church groups have called for their junking in the May 13 polls. Cruz also expressed disbelief at the President’s veto of the Magna Carta for the Poor, and also questioned the credibility of several opinion surveys that favored the Palace and cast doubts on the Church, including one that said one in 11 Cathloics want to change their religion. “When was such a survey ever been done before? Who asked for it and thus paid for it? And why was it done at all? If those in and or around Malacañang simply want to know whether the Catholic population in the country has increased or decreased year after year, let them just get a copy of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ yearly publication of The Catholic Directory of the Philippines, which contains data on how many Catholics are in each archdiocese, diocese and prelature every year,” Cruz said. Despite the high-profile split, the Palace expressed confidence that PPCRV would still be able to monitor the elections. “That’s an internal matter and we would not wish to make any comment into that split within PPCRV. However, we do expect the PPCRV to perform its functions with or without the bishops. They have been mandated to monitor the elections, and so we expect them to perform their duties,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said. “We also expect Comelec to conduct a free, honest, credible elections this 2013 and that is the mandate given to them. And we trust that they will be able to do that,” the Palace official added. CBCP secretary general Msgr. Joselito Asis said the CBCP still supports the PPCRV despite some dioceses questioning its credibility. “The mandate of the PPCRV as citizens’ arm of the CBCP for the election remains the same. So far, since its creation, the PPCRV has been effective in poll-watching,” Asis said. Asis also said the PPCRV will continue in its role of working with the dioceses, but said it is up to the bishops at the local level to decide if they would continue to support the group. With Joyce Pangco Pañares, Joel E. Zurbano and Vito Barcelo
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