Bishop in PCSO fund mess holds shares of stock in Ayala
One of the bishops embroiled in the controversial disbursement of Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) funds to some Roman Catholic Church clergy actually has millions invested in one of the country's biggest conglomerates, data from the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE) show.
According to PSE records obtained by GMA News Research, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Tuguegarao owns more than 24,000 common shares of Ayala Corp., currently valued at P8 million.
With those holdings, retired Tuguegarao Archbishop Diosdado Talamayan held about 0.0049 percent of the total shares of the company which ranked him 73rd in the Top 100 stockholders list of Ayala Corp.
In 2009, Talamayan asked then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for funds to finish a retirement home in conjunction with his 25th anniversary as a bishop.
It was earlier reported that some P200,000 from PCSO's public relations fund were funneled into the "operational expenses" of a clergy retirement home in Solana town, Cagayan as requested by the bishop for the celebrations marking his 25th year as a Catholic bishop.
The money was disbursed despite the fact that organizers, in a letter to then PCSO director Ma. Fatima Valdes, only requested for P2,500 for the tickets to a fundraising dinner the diocese organized.
According to documents obtained by GMA News, Talamayan personally wrote former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo a letter in 2009 requesting funds for the retirement home’s "finishing touches."
“Our retirement home, which you helped construct, needs only the finishing touches. And I pray that God give me the graces to adjust smoothly to my new phase in my life," the archbishop said in his letter to Arroyo.
In a resolution dated November 2009, the PCSO board decided to grant a request from the Office of the President specifying Talamayan's wishes, but the exact amount of the grant was not disclosed. The board said the money will be charged to the PCSO Charity Fund which, according to its Charter, could only be used for "medical assistance and services and/or charities of national character."
Dioceses as stockholders
The Archdiocese of Tuguegarao is just one of the groups connected with the Roman Catholic Church that hold stocks in companies whose shares are traded on the PSE.
PSE data show that several archdioceses and church groups own stocks in Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI), Philippine Airlines, San Miguel Corp. and PHILEX Mining Corp.
In BPI, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Manila ranks fourth in the bank's list of Top 100 stockholders with more than 200 million shares currently valued at P17.3 billion, and represents 6.266 percent of the bank’s outstanding shares.
In an interview with GMA News’ Sandra Aguinaldo on "State of the Nation," retired Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz said there's nothing wrong with the Church's investments in local firms, since its wealth was merely inherited from Spanish friars over a century ago and was invested in strong companies to nurture it.
But in the view of columnist and staunch Reproductive Health Bill advocate Elizabeth Angsioco, these bishops had effectively robbed the poor of the financial help from PCSO when they, in fact, had the wealth to fund their needs.
"Nagulantang ako doon sa laki ng pera na nasa stocks. Bukod pa do’n, yung panghihingi nila doon sa PCSO, ang kinumpetensya nila, ay yung mga mahihirap na mamamayan," Angsioco said in the same interview.
The P200,000 that went to Talamayan is ten times the P20,000-cap on PCSO's Individual Medical Assistance Program.
Investments in mining
While Cruz condoned the Church's stock investments, he criticized the bishops’ holding of shares in mining firms.
"Ngayon nga ang mining nasalaula. [Ito] ay nakakasira ng environment. Palagay ko panahon na [para] kunin [ng mga obispo] nila ‘yun, ilabas na nila at i-invest nila sa iba naman," Cruz said.
According to PSE data, the Archbishop of Manila, the Archbishop of Zamboanga and two accounts of the Religious of the Virgin Mary have stocks in PHILEX. Together, the 8.5 million shares of the group in the mining firm amount to more than P200 million.
Ironically, several bishops in the past were some of the staunchest oppositionists to the mining industry, especially in Eastern Visayas. In 2010, at least six bishops led the charge against mining permits issued in Samar and Leyte, citing the potential harm the activity could inflict on the environment.
The bishops include Palo Archbishop Jose Palma, Catarman Bishop Emmanuel Trance, Borongan Bishop Crispin Varquez, Maasin Bishop Precioso Cantillas, Calbayog Bishop Isabelo Abarquez, and Naval Bishop Felomino Bactol.
The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines even carried the bishops' statement on its own website.
“As shepherds of our flock, it is our collective sentiments that the continuing drive for development of the Eastern Visayas region anchored on mining as well as other extractive economic pursuits, only reinforce the irreversible trend of permanently damaging nature's endowments," according to the CBCP.
“As a consequence, the many lines of opportunities upon which our people can draw their life sustenance will definitely be threatened immensely," the CBCP added. — ELR/VS, GMA News