By Ferdinand Fabella
From Manila Standard:
A laity group in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Parañaque criticized Bishop Jesse Mercado for snubbing a public forum on Monday where he was invited to explain the disposition of more than P3 million in diocesan funds that were meant to be given to disaster victims, but purportedly did not reach the beneficiaries.
Dr. Erwin Carabeo, a leader of the Lay Initiative for Transparency and Accountability, expressed disappointment at the bishop’s apparent refusal to face the public and clarify the allegations hurled against him.
“We want to hear it directly from the bishop. These people, the ordinary parishioners and the faithful, have questions that we church workers also could not answer,” said Carabeo, a former president of the pastoral council of St. Andrew’s Cathedral, the seat of the Parañaque diocese.
Carabeo told Manila Standard Today at the forum held at the Elorde Sports Complex on Sucat Road in Parañaque that he resigned as council president when the alleged irregularity broke out because the bishop has done nothing to explain the matter but issue “blanket denials.”
Manila Standard Today tried to reach Mercado for comment but was referred to a statement, signed by the diocesan chancellor Rev. Carmelo Estores, posted in the diocese’s official website which said the bishop neither endorsed nor recognized the forum.
The statement said the bishop submitted a report to Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Giuseppi Pinto, after three priests of the diocese complained.
“Moreover, the Oeconomus (or Diocesan Financial Administrator) as well as the Diocesan Finance Council have explained in detail the facts pertinent to the unfounded allegations. They have also presented in full the financial status of the Diocese. This was done in the Clergy Assembly and in a meeting of the Diocesan Council of the Laity,” the statement read.
“The Oeconomus will also present the same to members of the Parish Finance Councils on the vicariate level,’ the statement added.
But Carabeo claimed the diocesan laity were not happy with the circular because it opens more questions with no substantial answers.
“They issued a circular, but when we went to see the circular, there are still a lot of questions that remained unanswered, all blanket denials and there were no substantial answers,” Carabeo said.
“The problem is we expect transparency from the government and yet the Church also could not be equally transparent. This (forum) should have been the proper venue to talk to the laity,” he added.
Carabeo said Mercado is being questioned for diocesan funds that were mostly intended for victims of calamities that were collected at different times since 2009 when Typhoon Ondoy hit Metro Manila.
He said the funds represent the 10 percent of the mass collections of 51 parishes in the cities of Paranaque, Muntinlupa, and Las Pinas which are all under the Diocese of Parañaque.
Carabeo claimed the diocese collected P1.6 million in 2009 for donations to Ondoy victims but only more than P200,000 allegedly reached the intended beneficiaries.
There were also millions that were unremitted to the victims of Haiti earthquake in 2010 and Tyhoon Sendong in 2011. The diocese also allegedly did not remit almost P400,000 donations to the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines for the Palm Sunday celebrations in 2011.
Carabeo said they have written Mercado twice, once in July and the latest earlier this month, to release the audited financial statements of the diocese and other pertinent documents that could determine the real financial condition of the church.
The alleged anomaly has been affecting the faithful, according to Carabeo.
“There are people who are appalled and really frustrated. The Church is the only institution the people still look up to in terms of being righteous, and being holy, and being pro-people,” he said.