By Nina Calleja
MANILA, Philippines—An organization of the Catholic laity in the cities of Parañaque, Las Piñas, and Muntinlupa have called on their diocesan bishop to account for more than P3 million in church funds intended to aid calamity victims and present them documentation of how the funds were distributed.
Representatives of the lay people in 51 different parishes of the Diocese of Parañaque alleged in a recent forum that almost half of the donations did not reach its intended beneficiaries — the victims of tropical storm “Ondoy,” Haiti earthquake, typhoon “Sendong,” and a fire in Muntinlupa City.
In their quest for answers, the outspoken lay people formed an organization, which they called Lay Initiative for Transparency and Accountability (Laity).
Dr. Erwin Carabeo, a parishioner in Parañaque City and one of group’s convenors, said Bishop Jesse Mercado has not responded to their June 20 letter asking for a fund accounting.
In the letter, the group said it has received reports that Bishop Mercado diverted a portion of the aid money to time and dollar deposits and Central Bank-issued special deposit accounts at the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI).
“So can we still trust the Church, the only institution which is supposed to be beyond reproach and the last bastion of morality? Where will the people go now?” Carabeo said.
According to earlier news reports, the diocese received P1.03 million in collections for the victims of the 2010 Haiti earthquake and P1.6 million for the flood victims when tropical storm “Ondoy” struck in September 2009.
It also got P129,201 from the parishioners who hoped to help fire victims in Muntinlupa in 2010. In the following year, it got P3.5 million after rallying its parishioners to donate for the victims of typhoon Sendong floods in Mindanao.
They said half of the church funds did not reach the calamity and fire victims.
Monette Hamlin, a lector at the Ascension of Our Lord Parish in Parañaque City, said she was in shock when she first learned about the issue.
“We are a poor parish. But the parishioners are generous givers and the little money they have they give it to the Church. Then you’d learn that the money wasn’t used. What’s that?” Hamlin said.
Carabeo said they have invited the bishop to attend the Monday forum but “he decided not show up” nor to send a representative. He said the Diocese of Parañaque even issued a memorandum circular on August 23 informing the clergymen and laity that the forum was not endorsed by the bishop.
“The Church is not composed only of clergymen. We, the laity, are part of it. We have the right to know where the money coming from most of us has been spent,” Carabeo said.
Although the bishop has denied allegations of fund misuse to reporters, the lay group urged Mercado to present to them receipts that the donations were used judiciously.
“We were waiting for the answers to our questions since June 20. What’s taking him so long?” Carabeo said.
Mercado previously told Church beat reporters that all expenses in the diocese were being studied, reviewed and properly documented.
He assured the public that two auditors from the Archdiocese of Manila, apart from an internal auditor, scrutinized how the money came in and out of the diocese.