The Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) on-going expose is an excellent introduction into the abuse of GOCCS during the last administration; and those prior. Naturally, GOCCs began during Martial Law. The mechanism for siphoning money out of government coffers and translating public funds to private pockets began then. Outside of entrenched government corruption, GOCCs offer almost unlimited resources for enrichment and the payment of personal favors. It should little surprise that one of the last acts of the previous administration was to place individuals in lucrative positions on various GOCC boards. The fact is, cleaning out government of corruption and private interests, has to include the GOCCs. The fact is the government has way to much discretionary funds at its disposal; most of it originating from GOCCs. Unallocated funds are a magnet for corrupt practices. It has even been noted that the PCSO has Php30 billion at its disposal, as much as the entire budget of the Department of Health. Casts new light on that old saying that the Philippines really is not poor; it is just a matter of its wealth being misused.
Ignoring my primary criticism that a government corporation like the PCSO should not be in the business of handing out funds on its own, what is coming out in the news should not be a shock. GOCCs are the milking cows of the corrupt leadership. What I am concerned is that some of the more egregious instances of GOCC abuse will be lost amidst the almost gleeful pronouncements of the immorality of certain priests. The most infamous now being Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos of Butuan and his birthday request to GMA for a brand spanking new SUV. His diocese received a PCSO check in the amount Php1.7 million (notably made out in his care) for that very purpose. Curiously, or not so much, Pueblos has been a strident and almost hysterical critic of President Noynoy Aquino’s administration. Going so far as to recommend that he step down from office, before he is forcibly removed. Even in the midst of this, he is using interviews and the like to air his grievances against Aquino, stating that evidence will be released revealing the ‘true character’ of the President. How…tenacious. Much like Morato and others, Pueblos is essentially acting as the stalking horse of vested interests.
At the moment that issue seems to be at the center of the PCSO expose and on most people’s lips. For good reason, it’s titillating and more than a little salacious. Especially in light of some people’s anger towards the Church’s stand against RH. With many going ahead and saying government funds should not be used for any religious or faith-based initiative; and citing the Constitution to defend their position. We should be focusing on the legality of the transfer of funds (based on the PCSO charter and relevant laws), not just on the salaciousness of the transfers.
That being said, I strongly feel that a differentiation needs to be made between giving discretionary funds to a Church diocese (bishops) and faith-based or religiously alighted non-government institutions. Non-government institutions (NGOS) are non-profit, non-stock vehicles created for outreach purposes. And many of them do have religious or faith based components; at times they are multi-sectoral entities with strong representation from both the Church and civil society. While foundations can, and have, been used for selfish means, on the whole most do a tremendous amount of good work in the field and throughout the country. I think we need to be very careful about lumping religious based foundations that have received government funding in with the current issue of diocese directly receiving government funds. Foundations have to rigorous and transparent in their donations and spending; more often than not only soliciting funds for certain outreach vehicles. And there are many religious based NGOs that are doing amazing work out in the field that rely on government support. In essence, they are even filling in gaps left by government failures.
As egregious as the issue of the bishops and their vehicles are, we have to careful about letting it overshadow some of the other instances of gross corruption.
For example, the fact that the PCSO has an intelligence fund that amounted to nearly Php160 million pesos. Seriously, can someone explain to me why the PCSO needs an intelligence fund? Anyone? What on earth is the justification for that? Other than the obvious: Free funds for free use.
Or the fact that Manuel Garcia probably made off with hundreds of millions of pesos in advertising kickbacks.
Or the Php1.3 billion contract given to Carlo J Caparas. Let’s not forget, the bishops did not steal the funds used to buy vehicles, it was given to them. Given by members of civil society who were raiding the coffers of public funds for personal use and repayment of political favors.
Or that there is a one billion peso stand by fund for SARS awareness. WTF?
We also should not, we cannot, lose sight of the fact that this scandal is not of the making of the CBCP or the Bishop of Butuan; no matter how ludicrous and irritating their pronouncements have been since. Good to know the CBCP seems to have an almost non-existent ability for self-reflection and criticism. Then again, there should be little surprise there.
Instead, this is a continuing example of how government was abused and subverted for private interests. And while it is exciting to get to hurl accusations and invectives at high-ranking Church members, we should reserve the greatest share of our ire for those who perpetrated the crimes. Those who continue to get off scott-free. This also relates to the almost disturbing rapidity with which certain members of the media lapped up the ‘exposes’ of Manoling Morato (a man who is far from an unimpeachable source on anything, much less where he has vested interests to distract from COA disclosures) a few weeks ago; exposes with nary a shred of evidence. I suspect they listened almost greedily to him because it offered them another avenue to criticize the Aquino administration. Now those media members are now remarkably silent on this evidence-backed issue, with the sole exception of popping up to criticize the bishops. Their inconsistency is almost absurd.
Focusing solely on issues like SUVs actually helps the perpetrators of the subversion of the PCSO. It distracts from the broader picture; one of egregious and gross corrupt practices. Practices that touched on all sectors of society; not just the religious. Think about it this way, no matter what the Bishop of Butuan said, his diocese would not have received the funds for a SUV unless someone agreed. Go after the ones who agreed. And make sure what was given is returned.