MANILA, Philippines – It's not an impeachable offense and the Palace sees nothing wrong with President Benigno Aquino III meeting with senator-judges at the height of the impeachment trial of former Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said on Wednesday, January 22, that personally, he "and a number of authorities have said already that there is no impeachable offense."
This comes days after Sen Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr accused the President of meddling with the impeachment trial. Malacañang reiterated Aquino only meant to make sure that senators voted on the merits of the case.
"The President meets with senators on various topics and various issues and various national concerns. It should not be a surprise that the President would meet senators and legislators and other concerned relevant heads of agencies," he said.
Lacierda insisted Aquino met with senators to put less pressure on them – after he heard certain quarters were pressuring senator-judges to vote in a certain way.
"It's realistic for us to say that there were pressure groups, influence groups that were trying to put pressure on the senators. So that’s the reason why the President said he wanted to put less pressure. How does he put less pressure? Just to remind them that, at the time that you make a judgment on the case itself, please decide on the merits and not on any influence exerted by any group," he said.
Malacañang however, refused to disclose the names of the pressure groups.
The Palace defended the meetings as being appropriate despite widespread knowledge Aquino was for Corona's removal. Lacierda insisted Aquino "knew the line [and] respected that separation."
"As a former senator and as a President, he has every right to appeal to the senators to hold true to their obligations, and there is no contradiction between his public and his private statements. The President has every right to make those appeals precisely to caution against deciding not on the merits, which would have been a disservice to the country," he said.
On Tuesday, Revilla delivered a privilege speech at the Senate wherein he accused Aquino and his allies of trying to influence him to vote for Corona's impeachment. Aquino admitted meeting with Revilla but denied the allegations.
The revelation has split legal opinion with some saying Aquino's meeting with senators may constitute an impeachable offense, and that the Supreme Court could undo the Senate’s guilty verdict against Corona in light of Aquino's alleged interference.
Explain to Ombudsman
Revilla faces a plunder complaint with the Ombudsman for allegedly pocketing P224.51 million of his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). He has denied the charges.
His wife, 2nd district Cavite Rep Lani Mercado, is reportedly working on an impeachment complaint against the President. The Palace said it would "respect the decision" of Mercado, "whatever decision she makes."
"Let’s wait for the complaint to be filed and we will leave it with the House to decide on the matter as to the merits of an impeachment complaint, if any, before we jump to that… whether Congresswoman Lani Mercado would pursue that, it’s entirely up to her discretion, and whether the House as a body would agree, let them decide on the impeachment complaint," Lacierda said.
He also urged Revilla to explain his side before the courts, instead of diverting the issue.
"The beauty about due process is that you have the opportunity to confront your accuser. We are not the accuser here. The accusers are the eyewitnesses...Benhur Luy. The beauty of due process is you can face accuser in the Ombudsman," he said.
"So, face the case, we’d like to ask Senator Bong Revilla. The best way to answer this is, what we have stated time and again, is to answer the charges against you in the Ombudsman," he said. – Rappler.com