MANILA, Philippines - A 2009 silver Mitsubishi Montero Sport parked at the bishop's palace in Butuan has been spotted by an ABS-CBN News team.
Based on the records of the Land Transportation Office, the vehicle was purchased in September 2009 and was registered under the name of Bishop Juan De Dios Pueblos.
The purchase was sealed 2 months after the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) released P1.7 million that was deposited in BPI Butuan.
Lawyer Alim Pangandaman, director of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) in the Caraga region, said his office verified the information.
However, pro-life groups and other lay leaders said there is nothing illegal about the PCSO donating luxury vehicles to bishops, even if these are registered under their names.
Lawyer Romulo Macalintal said the donations are made "in the service of the church."
A group is now collecting more than P8 million to be donated to the CBCP.
The amount is the cost of the 7 vehicles purchased through PCSO funds. They are leaving it up to the CBCP whether to use the money to pay the PCSO or buy replacement vehicles.
PCSO chairperson Margie Juico, meanwhile, cleared the bishops of any wrongdoing.
At a mass tuesday at the PCSO, Juico said there was no malice in the bishops' request.
She also praised the CBCP for apologizing to the public.
Juico said they consider the church as a partner in public service.
For Retired Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz, meanwhile, there is no excuse for the the actions of his colleagues.
"Kulang kasi sa delikadeza, sorry to say, mali ang mga kapatid kong mga obispo," he said. "Ang tubig pag may kaunting dumi, marumi pa rin."
Cruz considers the controversy a blessing in disguise, which agents of the church like him can reflect on.
The cbcp is leaving it up to the bishops concerned whether to return the vehicles.Their decisions may be known during the continuation of the Senate hearing into the PCSO fund mess on Wednesday.