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‘I met 3 more senators’

PNoy: Nothing irregular about it Critics: Improper, inappropriate

PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III met with not just one, but four senator-judges at the height of the impeachment trial against Chief Justice Renato Corona in 2012, the Chief Executive said Tuesday.

Aquino said he was only trying to “counter” the pressure being exerted on senator-judges to exonerate Corona, but he refused to consider his action a form of pressure to secure Corona’s conviction.

Aquino said aside from Senator Ramon Revilla Jr., he also met with Senators Teofisto Guingona III, Ralph Recto, and Jinggoy Estrada.

“Normally, I would have just let that pass, but there were so many confirmed reports that several sectors were exerting heavy pressure on senator-judges to decide not based on the merits of the case, to exonerate Corona in exchange for something,” the President said.

“Is it right for me to just stand by while these sectors are threatening and pressuring our senators? I think it is natural for me to ask them and confirm with them and let them feel that there are people who, if they do the right thing, are ready to support them. I would have been very irresponsible if I just let those who were exerting pressure to have their way without addressing this or doing something to counter this pressure,” Aquino said.

But the dean of the Lyceum College of Law, Soledad Mawis, said the meeting was improper since Revilla was still acting then as a senator-judge.

Mawis said if Corona was the one who invited Revilla to a meeting, it would also be seen as inappropriate.

“Even if you just knock on the room of judge when your counterpart lawyer is not present, there is already a sense of impropriety. All the more that there was impropriety because the one on the stand is the Chief Justice of the Philippines,” she said in a television interview.

“In fact, we have a provision -- Article 214 of the Revised Penal Code -- that any executive officer who orders a judicial authority to act in a certain way, can be criminally liable,” Mawis added.

Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, head of the independent minority bloc in the House of Representatives, on Tuesday blasted Aquino for impropriety over his secret meetings with the senator-judges.

Romualdez said that President Aquino should have exercised ‘delicadeza’ by avoiding the meeting with Revilla who was acting as a judge in the impeachment trial, especially his government has been championing good governance.

“This is very disappointing. It is highly improper for the President to ask a senator-judge to vote for the conviction of then Chief Justice Corona. His direct meddling is against his straight path campaign for good governance. Clearly he tried to influence the outcome of the impeachment trial,” Romualdez said.

“This government should have championed fair play... The President should also take constructively the revelations made by Senator Revilla. Obviously, the act of trying to influence the decision of Senator Revilla is not good,” Romualdez added.

Revilla on Monday said the President practically pleaded with him to convict Corona as a “favor” (balato).

The President admitted that he did not have any evidence to show other parties were pressuring the senators, but said intelligence reports confirmed his claim.

Aquino said the meetings with senator-judges were not made public to avoid creating more pressure on Senate that was sitting as an impeachment court at that time.

Revilla on Monday revealed in a privilege speech that Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II had driven him to a clandestine meeting with the Mr. Aquino at his official residence.

“What I was trying ensure was that they decide based on the merits of the case rather than any other external factors,” he said.

“I was trying to lessen the pressure on all of them,” Aquino said.

The President said Roxas served as the conduit because “he is more diplomatic and can talk to senators who are not exactly allies.”

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma said that if lawmakers felt that the secret meetings were an impeachable offense, they were free to initiate proceedings against the President.

Observers said such a move would not prosper, however, because the House of Representatives is packed with administration allies, and several senators on Tuesday said the meetings were not an impeachable offense.

Revilla on Tuesday dared the President and Roxas to face him in public to refute his story.

The Palace on Monday said the President never asked him to convict Corona as a favor, but confirmed the secret meeting.

“If they say that I am a liar, I challenge both of them,” Revilla said.

Revilla, one of three opposition senators accused of plunder in the P10 billion pork barrel scam, said he was gratified that the President confirmed the meeting.

Revilla also ridiculed Roxas’ claim that he met with the President to gain support for a bid to make Bacoor a city, because such a move would not need presidential approval.

Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile, who is also facing plunder charges, said he did not believe the meeting was a basis for impeachment or unethical, and that he did not know what transpired.

“I will not deal with ifs. I will deal with facts,” said Enrile, adding that if invited by the President, one should respond and see him.

Estrada, also facing plunder charges, was tight-lipped about his meeting with the President, merely saying that the President had confirmed it.

Recto and Guingona said there was nothing irregular about their meeting with the President because he heads the Liberal Party to which they belong.

Administration ally and Senate President Franklin Drilon said the meeting with Revilla was not an impeachable offense.

“It is not impeachable. It is all part of politics,” said Drilon, vice chairman of the ruling LP where Aquino is the chairman.

The Senate President, who is tasked to preside over impeachment trials, said the circumstances of the breakfast meeting between Revilla and Aquino in 2012 are not clear in the first place.

“I do not know the circumstances. There are claims by Secretary Mar Roxas that Senator Revilla discussed the cityhood of Bacoor; on the other hand, Senator Revilla said he went to the President because of the impeachment,” he said.

Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago said if the President merely confined himself to attempts to influence the outcome of the impeachment trial last year, he did not commit a crime, because an impearchment 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. 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 said.

But if the President bribed the senator-judges to convict the accused, Santiago said, then he is guilty of bribery, which is a ground for impeachment under the Constitution.

For example, she added, if it were proved that those who voted to convict Corona were rewarded through funds channeled through the Budget Department’s Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), this could be considered bribery.

In his expose last year, Estrada said each of the senator-judges who convicted Corona received an additional P50 million on top of their pork barrel.

Estrada and Revilla, Jr., in their respective privilege speeches, denied that the DAP funds they received were bribes, because the law punishes both the giver and the taker.

Santiago said she hoped the Supreme Court would settle questions regarding the legality of DAP, to settle the issue of bribery during the impeachment trial.

She said she, and former senator Joker Arroyo and Senator Ferdiand Marcos were the only three senators who voted to acquit ñ and they were not given the additional P50 million in funding.

“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,î she said.

In a rare interview, Senator Lito Lapid of the LP said he will not support any impeachment move against President Aquino. He said an impeachment against the President would just cause chaos.

“Let’s just wait for his term to end,” he said.

He said he still believes in the leadership of the President amid allegations that he had meddled in the impeachment case against Corona.

Another staunch supporter of Aquino, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, said there was nothing illegal about Aquino trying to influence the results of the impeachment.

“Right from the start, I have stressed that the impeachment trial is more political than legal. Hence, the influence of the President, whether tacitly or explicitly given, should be expected and it is not illegal for him to do so,” said Trillanes said in a text message.

Abakada party-list Rep. Jonathan dela Cruz, a member of the independent bloc, also criticized the President, saying the meeting should have been prevented because the senators-judges were impeaching no less than the country’s chief justice.

“As the truism goes, where there is smoke there is fire. Senator Revilla’s revelations reinforce the long held view that the administration used all means, fair or foul in an effort to impeach Corona and rearrange the constitutional order to its liking,” Dela Cruz said.

Mandaluyong Rep. Neptali Gonzales II, House majority leader, urged Revilla or anyone else to file an impeachment complaint against President Aquino if they think the Chief Executive violated the Constitution by meeting with Revilla.

But Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga, Jr., one of the prosecutors in the Corona impeachment trial, said that any impeachment effort against President Aquino would be a futile exercise.

Apart from the fact that impeachment is a political exercise, Barzaga said the President has the full control of the House as head of the ruling Liberal Party (LP).

“Impeachment is always a political process. The President has supporters in the House,” Barzaga said. With Macon Ramos-Araneta and Maricel V. Cruz

 

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