PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino 3rd on Tuesday admitted that he met with at least four senators, including Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr., at the time when the Senate was still hearing the impeachment case against then Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Besides Revilla, who earlier accused him of “meddling” in the impeachment case, Aquino disclosed that he had also met with Sens. Jinggoy Estrada, Teofisto Guingona 3rd and Ralph Recto. Guingona and Recto are members of the Liberal Party that is also headed by Aquino.
In an interview during the anniversary celebration of the Insurance Commission, the president explained that the separate meetings were done to “lessen the pressure” being exerted by some sectors on the senator-judges.
He even justified the meetings as “part of his duty.”
“Normally, I could have simply ignored so many reports that there were sectors exerting strong pressure on senators to decide the case not based on its merits. It was like many were telling them to exonerate Corona in exchange of something,” Aquino said in the vernacular.
The president confirmed Revilla’s claim that he met with the former at the Bahay Pangarap in Malacanang to discuss the issue on impeachment, among others.
“There [were]some of them… I [sat with]Senator Jinggoy at one point, Senator Guingona . . .and lastly Senator Recto. Not a majority of them if I recall correctly,” he said.
In a privilege speech he delivered on Monday, Revilla said he was fetched by then Transportation Secretary Mar Roxas in Quezon City and personally drove him to Malacañang where Aquino supposedly asked him Corona’s head.
Without going into the details mentioned by Revilla, Aquino said it was normal for him to “support” those like Revilla who were being forced to acquit the then SC chief and ”counter” those pressuring the senator-judges.
“So, was it proper that I just allow these sectors to cow, pressure and do whatever they want to senators? I think it was natural for me to seek confirmation from them and to make them feel that there are others who are ready to support them if they do what is right,” the president stressed.
Aquino further defended his actions as part of his responsibility to protect the senator-judges from undue stress.
“I will be very irresponsible if I would just allow the pressures to go unchecked. Like there was nothing we could do to counter the pressure,” he pointed out.
The president also defended the “secrecy” of his meeting with Revilla, saying that it was done away from public view to prevent other issues from setting in.
If the meeting was done in a “wrong venue,” Aquino explained, the intent of the discussion would have been defeated.
“Holding it in a wrong venue will not lead to an exchange of ideas, but rather it will be, ‘di ba, ang dami nang issues na papasok diyan—bakit kayo nag-uusap, et cetera, et cetera. That will further add to the pressures… What I was trying to do was basically ensure that they decide the case on the merits of the case rather than any other outside factor,” he further stressed.
“We were trying to lessen the pressures on all of them,” he added.
Prior to the conviction of Corona in mid-2012, it was reported that leaders of the influential religious group, Iglesia Ni Cristo, had approached some senators for Corona’s acquittal.
Former Supreme Court Justice Serafin Cuevas, Corona’s lead defense counsel in the trial, is a member of the INC, which has voting strength of at least 5million. The religious group supported Aquino’s candidacy in 2010.
Reports then indicated that INC leaders Dan Orosa and Resty Lazaro supposedly approached some senators, including Estrada, weeks before the verdict was handed down by the tribunal.
Eventually, Aquino himself paid a visit to the INC headquarters in Quezon City purportedly to verify reports about the INC pressure in favour of the former chief justice.
Malacañang officials confirmed that the meeting actually took place and that INC chief minister Eduardo Manalo hosted Aquino’s visit.
During Monday’s interview, however, Aquino refused to identify the “sectors” he mentioned but cited “intelligence reports” regarding the matter.
“These were intelligence reports and there [were]reports coming from various quarters saying that there really was such a move by quite a lot of quarters. Now, absent proof, lalabas ‘non hearsay; and hearsay is not substantiable—is not substantial,” he emphasized.
Aquino also said he had no bad blood with Revilla, whom he worked with during his stint as senator. In fact, he said, Revilla and his family frequently exchanged text messages with him on various issues but that the text messages suddenly stopped years ago.
“This was an exchange of text messages quite a while back, and after that, wala na rin kaming masyadong contact. Parang, if at all, from their camp ang nagte-text sa akin, especially during the last elections and prior to the election day, si Congresswoman Lani Mercado,” the president recalled.
During their last meetings, he said Revilla promised him of his support and for them to just “let go of the past.”
“Everytime we met he used to tell me to leave the past behind… and that I should expect his support in the future. And he always tells me that since I became president,” Aquino also said.
“Then it came to a point where I could not feel the support he promised in all my proposals so I asked him If I should still wait for the future help he promised me. And he didn’t respond,” he said.