MANILA, Philippines — The Catholic bishops of the Philippines denied a request to help shelter a woman believed to be at the center of the biggest political scandal to hit the Philippines.

Several local media reports said Janet Lim Napoles wrote a letter to the bishops asking them to keep her in protective custody as she awaited trial.

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, conference president, said in a July 8 statement that the organization did not have the legal capacity, under church or civil law, to carry out such a request.

"Existing church laws do not allow an episcopal conference to stand as guarantor before civil courts that the accused will not abscond and will be available at every trial date," he said. "Furthermore, we are not sure that under civil law, we are qualified for such a role as Ms. Napoles would wish us to assume."

Napoles allegedly orchestrated a scheme in which $230 million in lawmakers' special allocations were funneled through bogus nongovernmental agencies. State witnesses say she put the pork barrel funds in the ghost agencies, then withdrew them so lawmakers could  pocket the money, keeping a commission for herself.

The bishops' conference also expressed concern that detaining an accused person would set a precedent and it would find itself obligated to take in others who are accused. Archbishop Villegas said this would drain resources.

The prelate said, however, that the CBCP would continue to remain vigilant "that the rights of Ms. Napoles, as of all accused, are respected and safeguarded."