Senators say they won’t succumb to any lobbying
MANILA, Philippines – Any lobbying by any group would not sway the senators in their final verdict on Chief Justice Renato Corona, but it’s not surprising for any group to try to influence the outcome of the magistrate’s impeachment trial, some of the senators said Saturday.
Senators Aquilino Pimentel III, Vicente Sotto III, Gregorio Honasan III, Panfilo Lacson, Loren Legarda, Franklin Drilon, Francis Pangilinan and Ralph Recto said they have not been approached by the Iglesia ni Cristo. Some of them doubted the politically powerful religious sect “stoop so low.”
“Any lobbying is useless. I’m very vocal and publicly stated that I will decide on evidence. Lobbying can’t change evidence. They have to refute evidence by better evidence,” Pimentel said by phone, indicating that evidence would decide Corona’s fate.
Lacson agreed: “Even if true, I trust that a great majority of the senator-judges will be guided by what the prosecution and the defense panels have presented and will present, and how we will appreciate those pieces of evidence.”
More than the lobbying by groups, Corona’s forthrightness with respect to assets that he did not declare in his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth would help his cause, Drilon said.
A congressional source said INC officials, Dan Orosa and Resty Lazaro, had been doing the rounds of senators in an apparent bid to coax them into acquitting Corona, who is set to testify on Tuesday on the final stretch of his trial. Orosa is an INC official while Lazaro is a lawyer for the religious group.
The reported lobbying, which began when Congress went on a Lenten break in late March and continued even after the trial resumed on May 7, targeted members of the United Nationalist Alliance of Vice President Jejomar Binay and Joseph Estrada.
The INC packs a lot of clout with politicians especially around election time because the sect is widely believed to direct its followers how and for whom to vote.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer source claimed that INC officials met with Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile in Cagayan, and Senate President Pro Tempore Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada in Manila. Enrile declined to be interviewed, while Estrada said that, officially, he had not been approached.
Sotto, the Senate majority leader, said, however, it wasn’t surprising for any group on either side of the impeachment fence to approach senators given the political nature of the impeachment trial.
“Whether true or not, whether Malacañang is also talking to prosecutors or senators or not, it’s all part of the political character of the impeachment. You can’t prevent groups or persons from lobbying,” Sotto said by phone.
“It would not be a surprise for whatever group.… For all you know, their name [INC] is only being used,” he added.
Honasan said the reports of lobbying were “unfair’’ to both the INC and the senators.
“I think it’s a form of disrespect to the Iglesia and the senator-judges. We must presume good faith in everyone. There were insinuations like this before about the attempts by Malacañang to influence judges by offering development projects,” he said by phone.
Honasan said the reports should be ignored because they “destroy concentration and detract from what should be the focus: the continued search for truth and justice.”
All the senators sought for comment by the Inquirer said they had not been approached by the INC on Corona’s case.
“I have not been approached,” Lacson said in a text message. “I don’t think the INC leadership will stoop down and hit the gutter in an impeachment trial where moral fitness in such an exalted position in government is on trial.’’
Sotto admitted talking with an INC official a few months ago but on the reproductive health bill. And neither were Honasan, Drilon, Pangilinan, Recto and Legarda approached about Corona’s case, these senators said.
“I have not been approached by the INC or the Palace to influence my vote in the trial,” Honasan said. “I don’t think the senator-judges should give this too much attention. We’re looking forward to the appearance of the chief justice.”
Pangilinan said this could be “all speculation” and declined further comment.
Recto said he was “surprised” by the report.
Drilon said, “Can state for a fact I was not approached.”
Pangilinan, Recto and Drilon are partymates of President Benigno Aquino III, who has openly said he wanted Corona removed from office.
Like her colleagues, Legarda said she would rather “assess” the evidence and wait for Corona’s testimony on Tuesday.
House Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III, spokesman of the prosecution panel, also doubted the INC would go to such lengths to influence the verdict on Corona.
“I don’t think the INC will do that. It will be unfair to senator-judges. The senator-judges would want to base their decision on the evidence presented,” he said by phone.
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