Photo by: RUY MARTINEZ
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 Senators Jinggoy Estrada, Teofisto Guingona 3rd and Ralph Recto. Guingona and Recto are members of the Liberal Party also headed by Aquino.
Quick to the defense of Aquino, a Palace spokesman said the President does not regret his meeting with Revilla and is even prepared to face any impeachment charges that may be filed against him.
Too, Aquino allies in the House of Representatives House Majority Leader Rep. Neptali Gonzales 2nd of Mandaluyong City and Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. of Cavite Fourth District said that there is nothing wrong with Aquino’s meeting with Revilla during the height of the impeachment proceedings.
Both even dared critics to file an impeachment case against the president if the latter violated the Constitution.
‘Lessen the pressure’
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 Malacañang to discuss the issue on impeachment, among others.
“There [were]some of them . . . I [sat with]Sen. Jinggoy at one point, Sen. Guingona, and lastly Sen. 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.
Natural for Aquino
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 Supreme Court (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 (INC), had approached some senators for Corona’s acquittal.
Former SC Justice Serafin Cuevas, Corona’s lead defense counsel in the trial, is a member of the INC, which has voting strength of at least five million. 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 favor 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 na 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.”
“Every time 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.
Ready for impeachment
Aquino does not regret his meeting with Revilla and is even prepared to face any impeachment charges that may be filed against him, a Palace official said.
In a press conference, Presidential Communications Secretary Hermnio Coloma Jr. insisted that the President didn’t meddle with the impeachment trial of Corona when he met Revilla in his residence at the Malacañang complex.
He explained that Aquino only met with Revilla to ask him to vote based on the merits of the evidence but not to influence him.
“Sa marami na pong pagkakataon, tinanong ninyo ang ating Pangulo hinggil sa posibilidad ng impeachment, at ang palaging sinasagot ng Pangulo, ay handa naman siyang harapin kung ito man ay ihahain ng mga miyembro ng Kongreso [In many instances, the President has been asked about the possibility of impeachment and he has always said that he is prepared to face this if it is to be initiated by the members of Congress],” Coloma said.
However, he could not say if an impeachment complaint against the President would prosper, noting that Congress alone may decide for itself.
“Nasa pagpapasya na po nila iyan. Hindi naman po natin gusto silang pangunahan. Ginagalang po natin ang Kongreso bilang separate and co-equal branch of government,” he added.
In his privilege speech on Monday, Revilla said that Aquino pleaded that he vote to convict Corona in 2012—an act the senator said violates the independence of the legislature.
Coloma, however, said that Revilla is just trying to divert public attention from the “real issue.”
He said that the senator should have told the people how he spent his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allocation.
“The privilege speech of Sen. Revilla could have been a good opportunity for responding to the people’s clamor for a full explanation on what happened to the PDAF allocation that he received from 2007-2009,” Coloma said
“What the people heard and saw was a plain attempt to divert public attention from the real issue. As an elected public official, the senator is expected to fully account for the PDAF allocation that he received,” he added
House double dare
The critics of Aquino are free to file impeachment raps against the Chief Executive if they believe the words of embattled Revilla that the President tried to get Revilla’s vote for the impeachment of Corona, House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales 2nd said.
This, a day after Revilla—who is facing P224.5 million plunder complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman over the P10 billion Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam—accused Aquino of asking him a favor by voting for the conviction of Corona of betrayal of public trust for undeclared wealth before the Senate impeachment court.
“If they think what happened was an impeachable offense, then the proper thing to do it file an impeachment complaint here in the House [of Representatives]because it is this body, thru the House Committee on Justice, which decides which is an impeachable offense. But they need to file the impeachment compliant first and it must be endorsed by a member of the House,” Gonzales said during the weekly Ugnayan sa Batasan News Forum.
Gonzales was referring to the constitutional duty of the House to initiate impeachment proceedings.
“For so long that there is an endorser, the impeachment complaint can be referred to the House Committee on Justice. But you must have personal knowledge of the complaint. Otherwise, it will just be hearsay. But if there is no complaint, there will only be a high school debate on what is impeachable or not,” Gonzales, a lawyer, argued.
House Games and Amusements panel Chair Rep. Elpidio Barzaga of Dasmariñas, for his part, expressed doubts that the words of the beleaguered Revilla would be enough to initiate an impeachment proceeding against Aquino.
“Do we accept what he said at face value that the President talked to him to secure a vote for Corona’s conviction? That is disputed in the first place because it has been denied by the President and the [Interior] Secretary Mar [Roxas],” Barzaga said, referring to Revilla’s claim that it was Roxas who fetched him for the meeting with the President.
“The rule of law is due process. We need to hear the response of the person alluded to. It has happened and now it is up to the media or the Filipino people to choose whose words to believe in,” Barzaga added.
In closing, Gonzales invoked that it all boils down to Revilla’s decision on the Corona case, regardless if Revilla’s claims that he was forced to vote for Corona’s conviction or otherwise.
“What is important to me is his [Revilla’s] statement that he decided to convict then Chief Justice Corona because that was the correct thing to do based on his appreciation of the circumstances [that was unearthed in the Corona trial],” Gonzales said.
No betrayal of public trust
However, Barzaga believed—considering Revilla’s allegations were true—that Aquino did not commit a betrayal of public trust because the senator’s vote for Corona’s conviction is “not crucial.”
“I don’t think there will be a betrayal of public trust. When we say betrayal of public trust, it is a trust of such magnitude goes to the heart and soul of the nation. And in this particular case, the vote of Sen. Revilla is not actually critical or crucial because the result of the vote was 20 in favor of conviction and only three against,” he said.
Meanwhile, United Nationalist Alliance Secretary General and Navotas Rep. Toby Tiangco said that because of the limited number of opposition members at the House, it would be impossible to pass an impeachment complaint against Aquino.
“We have to face the reality that he [Aquino] cannot be impeached whatever impeachable offense he may commit,” Tiangco said.
Given that Revilla’s allegations were true, the opposition lawmaker also said it is upon the hands of the people to make the administration accountable given the number of allies he has at the House.
With reports from Catherine S. Valente, Llanesca T. Panti and Jhoanna Ballaran