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Prelate admits he accepted ‘donations’

Gift of ambulance from government becomes 'offensive' source of embarrassment reporters, Manila

July 5, 2011

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A bishop in the southern Archdiocese of Cotabato today admitted accepting “donations” from the Charity Sweepstakes Office under the administration of former president Gloria Macapagal0-Arroyo. “Yes, I received an ambulance in December 2009. I asked [the] president … for it,” said Auxiliary Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo. The bishop said he saw nothing wrong in accepting donations from the government if they were used to benefit the community, adding that he had also accepted money – about 50 million to 100 million pesos (US$1.2-2.4 million) – from the administration of another president, Corazon Aquino, which was used to build schools. He clarified that he specifically asked Arroyo for an ambulance to service a home for the aged, not a sport utility vehicle for personal use. The Commission on Audit said recently the previous administration gave “gifts” to congressmen and religious leaders in the form of ambulances and SUVs, apparently to win their support. “The ambulance is the property of Cotabato Bahay Maria, Inc., a home for the aged and incapacitated. It is used not only by Bahay Maria but also by patients from outside. It’s open to the public; they just have to pay for gas and the driver’s salary. Maintenance cost is very minimal,” Bishop Bagaforo said. He added that NGOs were the ones soliciting funds to support Church-related programs. “They ask for our endorsement, our help; and there are instances when the offer comes from the government itself.” The Senate will begin an investigation into alleged bribery of bishops by the previous government tomorrow. Representative Edcel Lagman said today  the “solicitation or acceptance by Catholic bishops of motor vehicles or cash gifts from the government is not a crime per se, but is morally offensive.” He said there is no law penalizing those who violate the “doctrine of separation of Church and State” and the constitutional provisions barring the establishment of a state religion or appropriating public money or property for use by religious groups or individuals. Representative Lagman further denied that he was one of 29 legislators accused of receiving vehicles from the PCSO under the Arroyo administration.
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