MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang admitted on Monday, January 20, that President Benigno Aquino III met with Senator Ramon Revilla Jr during the time of Chief Justice Renato Corona’s impeachment trial, but denied it was meant to pressure the lawmaker into convicting the magistrate.
Presidential Spokesman Herminio Coloma hastily called a press conference at 6 pm on Monday, a couple of hours after Revilla delivered his privilege speech, to deny the senator’s allegation that the President specifically asked him to convict the Chief Justice.
“Pare, parang awa mo na, ibalato mo na sa akin ito. Kailangan siyang ma-impeach,” Revilla quoted the President as saying. (Friend, please do me this favor. He has to be impeached.)
Although Aquino had insisted that his administration was pushing for Corona’s impeachment in 2012 in line with its anti-corruption campaign, it was also widely known that he disliked Corona for having been appointed by outgoing President Gloria Arroyo just before Aquino could succeed her.
It was also under Corona’s leadership that the Supreme Court decided with finality that Hacienda Luisita, the sugar plantation that the President’s family had succeeded in sparing from the agrarian reform program for 4 decades, be distributed to farmers.
At the briefing, Coloma said Aquino met with Revilla to verify reports that senators were being pressured by other groups into voting to acquit Corona.
“The President met with Senator Revilla to verify persistent reports that the senators were being pressured by interest groups to influence the outcome of the impeachment trial, and he asked the senator to decide on the basis of its merits,” Coloma said.
The Cabinet Secretary argued that Revilla himself said he would vote according to what he thought was right. Revilla ultimately voted for Corona’s conviction.
In his speech, Revilla narrated how he was secretly driven to the Palace by Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II, a party mate of the President. Revilla said he was met by Aquino and Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, another official of the Liberal Party. During that meeting, Revilla said Aquino asked him to help him impeach Corona.
Revilla’s allegations came months after Senator Jinggoy Estrada, who is also implicated in the pork barrel scam, said in a privilege speech that the senators who voted to convict Corona got P50 million in additional discretionary funds after the trial ended in May 2012, calling it an “incentive.”
Coloma also slammed Revilla for failing to detail how he used his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), which was what the privilege speech was for.
Revilla has been accused of pocketing at least P224.5 million of his PDAF or pork barrel. He faces a plunder complaint for allegedly siphoning off his pork barrel funds to fake non-governmental organizations of supposed mastermind Janet Lim Napoles in exchange for commissions.
“The main issue here is the proper use of public funds for which Senator Revilla is accountable. It is his duty to start explaining to our people how his PDAF was actually spent,” Coloma said.
In his speech, Revilla insisted all his money was hard-earned but did not explain in detail how he used his PDAF. He instead devoted the bulk of his speech to blasting the Aquino administration’s supposed poor performance, alleged special treatment of its allies, and persecution of political rivals.
Mum on details
But when the Palace was asked why it was Revilla – and not other senators such as his allies – that Aquino approached to verify reports on the alleged pressure exerted by groups on the senators, Coloma could not respond.
He denied the meeting between Revilla and the President was clandestine, despite Revilla’s account that Roxas removed his plate number when driving Revilla to the President’s official residence.
In a separate statement, Roxas denied removing the plate number of his vehicle before heading to Bahay Pangarap. He said he never used a special plate as congressman, senator, or even as Cabinet secretary. “Ang ginagamit ko ay ang regular na plaka na iniisyu ng LTO…. Hindi ko nakaugalian na ikabit ito sa aking sasakyan,” he said.
(I use the regular plate issued by the LTO. I don’t make it a habit of adding [special plate numbers for government officials] on my car.)
Roxas also said there was nothing wrong with the President meeting a senator of the country. Revilla, said Roxas in a statement, wanted to speak to Aquino about the cityhood of Revilla’s home town of Bacoor and his presidency of the opposition Lakas party.
Revilla was elected Lakas-CMD president in 2011 and party chairman on Feb 5, 2013. The impeachment trial of Corona was from January to May 2012.
The cityhood of Bacoor, meanwhile, was signed by the President on April 10, 2012, more than a month before the Senate impeached Corona. Voters in Bacoor later approved the cityhood on June 23, 2012.
Roxas said he took Revilla to the President in his own vehicle “para matugunan ang reglamento ng PSG at hindi na maaberya si Senator Bong.” (To follow the regulations of the Presidential Security Group and so Senator Revilla wouldn’t be hassled.)
Roxas also chided Revilla in the statement, saying he “understands” why Revilla is “angry at the world.”
“Mahirap ang sitwasyon niya na may testigo at COA documents nagapapatunay ng koneksyon niya sa Napoles scam,” he said. (It’s hard to be in a situation where witnesses and the Commission on Audit have documents to prove your involvement in the Napoles scam.)
But he also urged Revilla to stick to the issue. “Pero hindi solusyon sa problema niya ang paglilihis ng isyu, pagbaluktot sa katotohanan, at panloloko ng tao.” (His problem won’t be solved by diverting from the issue, twisting the truth, and deceiving the public.)
Don’t drag President’s family
Coloma also appeared annoyed when he was asked for the names of other senators Aquino approached to verify the reports of alleged interest groups pressuring them on Corona. He said he did not have that information.
Additionally, the Palace said Aquino “deplores the unfair insinuation made by Senator Revilla against his sister, Maria Elena Aquino-Cruz, and her husband Eldon despite the fact that the Czech ambassador has clearly stated that they are not in any way involved in the MRT project in which a Czech firm was interested.”
Revilla was referring to Czech Ambassador Josef Rychtar’s claims that Czech company Inekon had been blacklisted by the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) from the MRT-3 bidding after the company refused to give a $30-million bribe allegedly asked for by the presidential sister and her husband.
Later, Rychtar said it was 3 DOTC undersecretaries – Jose Lotilla, Rene Limcaoco, and Catherine Gonzales – and Transportation Assistant Secretary Jaime Feliciano who tried to extort from the Czech firm.
Revilla cited this as an example of how badly it must feel to have one’s family name and reputation tarnished by accusations of corruption. – Rappler.com