Philippines President accused of bribing bishops

A Philippines newspaper has alleged that the decision by the Philippines' Catholic Bishops Conference not to support new impeachment proceedings against President Gloria Arroyo was influenced by cash gifts and promises of aid.

The Philippines' Inquirer cited a Conference "source" who said Fatima "Nena" Valdes, President Arroyo's undersecretary for religious affairs, arranged a dinner party for prelates sympathetic to President Arroyo as a "reward" for the recent Conference decision.

In the pastoral statement issued last week, the Conference said it was "not inclined at the present moment to favour the impeachment process as a means of establishing the truth" on whether President Arroyo manipulated the 2004 vote. Critics have denounced the bishops' position as vague and ambivalent.

Valdes, together with a certain "Attorney Adriano" and their staff, was also behind the reported distribution of envelopes containing cash to bishops during their weeklong retreat and plenary.

Valdes allegedly signed the letter offering cheap rice and low-cost medicines to some of the poorest dioceses in the country incidentally headed by known anti-Arroyo bishops.

The Inquirer source in the Conference said Undersecretary Valdes had arranged the dinner on Sunday upon the conclusion of the bishops' plenary at a restaurant near where they had met at the Pope Pius XII Catholic Centre on United Nations Avenue in Manila.

The Inquirer says that its sources earlier reported that the Presidential Palace had offered relief aid for Church projects for the poor as they gathered in Manila for their weekend plenary and handed out envelopes to the bishops containing P15,000 to P30,000 (A$380-760).

Some of the bishops reportedly returned the envelopes. Other prelates allegedly saw nothing wrong in the offers of relief aid to the poor as they prepared to sit down and discuss a stand on the worst political crisis to hit the five-year-old Arroyo administration.

Last month, the opposition filed impeachment complaints against President Arroyo, reviving charges last year that she stole the May 2004 presidential election and including fresh accusations she engaged in political killings. The President has denied the allegations.

Archbishop Diosdado Talamayan of Tuguegarao and a number of other church officials said in a statement last week they were saddened at "malicious insinuations" meant to impugn the Conference's integrity by people unhappy with its statement.

Palace gave 'victory' dinner for bishops - CBCP source (INQ7 14/7/06)
Malilong: Bribe attempt and the CBCP statement (Sun Star 16/7/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines
Gloria Macapagal Arroyo official website
Office of the President, Philippines

Filipino bishops refuse to back President impeachment (CathNews 11/7/06)
Pope congratulates Philippine President for death penalty ban (CathNews 27/6/06)
Vatican silences Philippine bishops (CathNews 12/7/05)

17 Jul 2006