INC ‘lobbying’ for Corona acquittal
In what could be a test of its political clout, emissaries of the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) have been working behind the scenes to try and sway senator-judges to acquit impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona, a legislative source said on Friday.
The impeachment trial is expected to reach its high point on Tuesday when the country’s highest magistrate is scheduled to testify and answer allegations against him, including his supposed failure to fully disclose in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) how much he really owns.
The congressional source, who asked not to be named for lack of authority to speak on the matter, said officials of INC, primarily Dan Orosa and Resty Lazaro, had been doing the rounds of senators since Congress went on its Lenten break. Orosa is a high-ranking INC official while Lazaro is a lawyer for the religious group.
The Inquirer source said the INC continued its hush-hush lobbying with other senators when the impeachment trial resumed last May 7, with two other individuals—Manny Cuevas and Victor Cheng—helping out in the group’s pro-Corona offensive.
Most senators reject feelers
Cuevas and Cheng touched base with several senators, requesting for a meeting to plead the case of Corona. But the source said most of the senators rejected their feelers for a meeting, being wary of their motives.
Cuevas, an INC member, is a brother of Serafin Cuevas, Corona’s chief defense lawyer and a former Supreme Court associate justice.
The primary targets of the approaches were allies of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) of Vice President Jejomar Binay and former President Joseph Estrada, according to the source.
The source claimed that Orosa and Lazaro met with Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile in Cagayan and Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada in Manila during the congressional break.
The Inquirer sought Enrile’s comment but his staff said the Senate President declined to be interviewed. Officially, Jinggoy Estrada said he had not been approached.
The INC declined to comment on the report. The Inquirer also tried to contact Ferdinand Topacio, an INC lawyer, but he also refused to comment, saying he was not authorized to speak for INC.
Manny Cuevas and Cheng are also connected with the Philippine International Air Terminals Co. Inc. (Piatco), which has a pending case with the Supreme Court seeking to overturn a Pasay City judge’s decision awarding Piatco $176 million as just compensation for the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3, which it had built.
Corona has claimed that President Aquino wanted him ousted from the Supreme Court and replaced by Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, whose law partners in the Villaraza Cruz Marcelo & Angangco law firm serve as legal counsel of Transportation Secretary Manuel Roxas II in the latter’s electoral protest against Binay’s election as vice president.
Corona chairs the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, which will decide Roxas’ two-year-old protest.
The Inquirer source said the supposed INC lobbying was an “open secret” among senators, who consult each other regularly on efforts to sway their votes.
“I’m not sure if there were other senators who met with the INC emissaries, but I’m sure at least two rejected them outright,” the source said. “They were telling the senators of their plans to set up a meeting between Erap and Corona at Polk Street (Estrada’s residence in Greenhills).”
Support for Corona
The 1.8-million-strong INC held a massive rally at Manila’s Rizal Park last February attended by more than half a million people, which some INC officials said was a show of support for Corona. Its members have also held smaller rallies outside the Supreme Court backing the Chief Justice.
The sect is one of several religious groups courted by politicians of all stripes during election campaigns for its massive block vote that gives it huge clout at the polls.
Political analysts say the INC’s big vote can have an impact in next year’s midterm congressional polls. With a report from Cathy C. Yamsuan
First posted 12:27 am | Saturday, May 19th, 2012
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