MANILA, Philippines – Criticized for alleged impropriety, President Benigno Aquino III on Tuesday, January 21, admitted he met with Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr and 3 other senators in 2012 on the impeachment of then Chief Justice Renato Corona.
In an interview with reporters, Aquino said it was the “natural” thing to do. He also met with senators Jinggoy Estrada, Teofisto “TG” Guingona III, and Ralph Recto. The last two senators are the President’s party mates.
“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,” Aquino said.
The President said, on one hand, he “normally” avoids interfering in Senate processes. But, on the other hand, “there were many confirmed reports that a lot of sectors were exerting heavy pressure on the senators to decide on the case not on the merits.”
He admitted this after Revilla on Monday, January 20, said the President personally appealed to him and other senators to convict Corona. (READ: Revilla hits Aquino for ‘crooked justice’)
‘To lessen pressure’
Aquino explained: “It seemed there were many who were telling them to ‘exonerate Corona and this is what you will gain from it.’ So…will I just step aside while all other sectors were really threatening, pressuring, and doing so many other things to the senators?”
“I would have been very irresponsible…not to counter the pressures being done,” Aquino added.
On Monday, the President’s spokesman Herminio Coloma Jr said the President’s meeting with Revilla was not meant to influence the impeachment trial.
Was he not himself pressuring them to convict Corona? The President said, “We were trying to lessen the pressures on all of them.”
He declined to identify the sectors allegedly trying to influence the trial. “Do I have audiotapes? Do we have affidavits? I have none,” he said, noting he got “intelligence reports.”
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.
On Tuesday, Aquino also denied that Revilla wanted to meet him to strike a compromise on the pork barrel controversy. Revilla reportedly wanted charges against him dismissed, in exchange for him returning commissions he allegedly got from businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles.
He said is “not aware of any letter” that Revilla wanted a meeting with him. “Since there is no such letter, there is also no topic.”
The President said instead of raising issues against him, Revilla should stick to the issue, which the senator failed to clarify in his speech: Did he misuse his pork barrel?
“One would have expected that he would’ve explained,” Aquino said. “Like any other citizen, he is an accused, we want to hear his side, and we were expecting that that was what he would respond to.”
Asked if Aquino explained why he wanted Corona’s impeachment, Guingona said, “We didn’t talk about that.”
Recto admitted he spoke with the President “about the impeachment.” “Nothing new with that,” he said.
“He explained his side – as simple as that,” Recto said, when asked if Aquino requested him to vote for Corona’s conviction.
He said the President didn’t pressure him. “I told him I will do the right thing as well,” he said. “I look at it as a political process. I’m in the Liberal Party with the President.”
He cannot remember, however, if Interior Secretary Mar Roxas fetched him to meet with Aquino. Revilla on Monday claimed Roxas, whom he derisively called “Boy Pick-Up,” drove him to their meeting.
Miriam: ‘Impeachable’ offense
In the face of all these issues, Aquino’s meetings with senators drew a mix of reactions.
Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago said nothing is illegal with the meetings per se.
“It is not a crime for the President to try to influence the outcome, because an impeachment trial is both legal and political in nature. It is illegal for the President to try and influence the courts, because of the principle of independence of the judiciary,” Santiago said in a statement.
“But it is legal for the President to try and influence the senator-judges, because he is the nominal head of his political party, and within bounds, he has the right to assure his political survival,” she added.
The question, she said, is if the administration bribed senators with the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program or DAP. (READ: Miriam to Palace: Playing favorites is against the Constitution)
This could mean Aquino’s impeachment, she said.
“If the Supreme Court rules that DAP is unconstitutional, then the usual consequence is that the senator-judges will be obliged to restitute and return to the government the sum of P50 million each; and the sum of P100 million each from senators Enrile, Drilon, and Escudero. Furthermore, President Aquino will become liable for impeachment, on the constitutional ground of bribery,” Santiago explained.
The Supreme Court should review Corona’s impeachment, she added, “on the ground of extrinsic fraud, which was committed outside the narratives of the trial.” – Paterno Esmaquel II/Rappler.com
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