Thursday, September 29, 2011

For PCSO to know

The Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office’s (PCSO) announcement on the “delisting” of more than 100 beneficiary institutions made headlines and raised eyebrows. Many of these institutions are run by religious congregations and church-related groups that minister to the poor.

The reason the PCSO gave was the “misuse” (not necessarily “abuse”) of funds. There was a problem with liquidation on the part of the beneficiaries, PCSO chair Margarita Juico explained. A big issue was the use of PCSO funds for administrative expenses when these should be for health/medical purposes only of persons in need. Batteries not included, as the saying goes.

I went over the list of the delisted (temporarily, pending liquidation of expenses, it was clarified) and felt sorry for them. I know many of them and what they do for “the last, the least and the lost.” I am familiar with a good number of these institutions and I have written about the heroic work some of them do—quietly, without fanfare and despite the scarcity of funds. They provide services that government agencies are supposed to provide.

Now they look (or are being made to look) like they have not been good stewards of funds entrusted to them. Not all have been remiss in complying with PCSO requirements.

Among those on the list are ministries of the Religious of the Good Shepherd (RGS). One of them, the Heart of Mary Villa (HMV), provides residential care for women who have gotten pregnant outside of marriage (because of either rape, incest or consensual/casual sex) and who need a place to go for counseling and care, and for babies who have been surrendered or abandoned.

For the last 54 years, HMV has been a place of refuge for pregnant women in crisis. Thousands of mothers had resolved their crises here, thousands of babies had spent their first few months in the HMV nursery before they were adopted. You might know some grown-ups who made good in this world who came from there. I know some. And I have written about their amazing life journey as much-loved adopted children and great citizens of this planet. I wish one or two of them would come forward to speak about the need for a place like HMV.

The Good Shepherd Sisters were sad when they learned that HMV was among the “delisted.” HMV president Sr. Marion Chipeco RGS wrote to the Inquirer: “The track record of HMV for 54 years attests to the relevance and necessity of its program and services. This reality must have made PCSO include HMV in the list of regular beneficiaries. We are grateful for the assistance…

“However, since 2002 we have experienced difficulty in receiving our subsidy… We sent letters from time to time. Part of the assistance meant for the years 2002-2004 was received intermittently, until we were told that what was not released would no longer be released. Instead, we were asked in 2007 to submit the requirements for a memorandum of agreement (MOA). The MOA, approved in July 2007, stipulated that a subsidy of P100,000 would be released monthly within the year. It took two years, though, for the subsidy to be completed…

“For 2008 we were asked to submit original receipts but no MOA was approved for 2008. (The original receipts that we sent were not returned to us.) The MOA for 2009 was approved in July 2009, a subsidy of P100,000 was released in August 2009, followed by another subsidy of the same amount in October 2010. No other subsidy followed.”

So where is the P1.2 million yearly for HMV that the PCSO is talking about?

Welcome House, also run by the RGS, was also among the “delisted.” For almost 40 years, Welcome House in Paco, Manila, has been a shelter for women and girls in crisis. Many of its clients have been referred by government agencies such as the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), the Philippine General Hospital Child Protection Unit and the Women and Children’s Desk of the Philippine National Police, Welcome House coordinator Sr. Pilar Verzosa RGS said.

What government agencies cannot always do, the Good Shepherd nuns do.

Wrote Sr. Pilar: “We need funds for electricity, water, transportation to hospital, fees for psychiatrists and lawyers, funds for court hearings, repairs, food, clothing. These items have always been included in all the requests of charitable institutions. But now PCSO lists these as administrative costs which should mean only salaries, office supplies, rental, etc.

“All of us institutions know that we never ask for these items. There is no so-called ‘abuse’ involved. It is the task of the DSWD to assess if agencies and institutions should or should not be given allocations. DSWD accreditation has always been required by the PCSO. I believe that all those institutions delisted by the PCSO are DSWD-accredited. We are all in the same dilemma as to how we will now maintain our services to the poor.”

HMV and Welcome House are just two of the many and varied ministries of the RGS.

After more than 50 years in Malabon, HMV recently transferred inside the sprawling Good Shepherd compound in Quezon City where a new building that serves as nursery was inaugurated last February. Malabon is a flood-prone area and HMV was not spared the frequent inundation in recent years. In 2009 when Typhoon “Ondoy” caused huge parts of Metro Manila to go underwater, HMV was barely afloat. It was time to seek higher ground.

The RGS have many other ministries to sustain. Founded in France in 1835 by Saint Mary Euphrasia Pelletier, the congregation came to the Philippines in 1912 and will be celebrating a century in the country next year. The RGS are among the largest women’s congregations in the world. Their mission is “directed to the most neglected and marginalized, in whom the image of God is most obscure.”
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This Sunday, October 2, be surprised to read a thicker Sunday Inquirer Magazine, now a monthly.

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