BY CLAIRE WALLERSTEIN AND ADAM EASTON LN MANILA
Pounc7ANs IN THE Philippines are demanding that Cardinal Sin, the Archbishop of Manila, be called before the Supreme Court to establish his involvement in the collapse of a charitable bank formerly owned by the Church.
The 115 year old Monte de Piedad and Savings Bank closed down last week with debts of 2.8 billion pesos and unpaid loans of 1.8 billion, which had been made to tricycle operators and "jeepney" drivers through the Strategic Lending Investors (SLI) organisation. SLI now appears to have embezzled creditors' repayments.
It has emerged that the Church withdrew 500 million pesos from Monte de Piedad, just before the national bank, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, declared it bankrupt. Most other depositors, found their savings unreachable.
Vicente Tan, the business man who bought the bank from the Church in September in 1995, claims he was severely misled over its level of debts.
In addition, Senator Juan Flavier has accused the Archbishop of receiving insider information to withdraw the cash. He has also suggested that SLI was a front for the Ilonggo Mafia, supposedly composed of relatives of Cardinal Sin.
The press is calling Monte de Piedad, "not a mount of piety, but a mount of hypocrisy".
But the Cardinal denies there is a case to answer. In a letter to parishioners he insisted: "The sale of Monte de Piedad was done with the very best of intentions. We wanted to have a bank to help the poor and to provide adequate support for our catechetical programme."
As reported in the Herald, last week, Cardinal Sin suspects there is a campaign to discredit the Church because of its resistance to constitutional changes which would extend President Ramos's term in office.