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Iglesia ni Cristo lobby doubted

Just a trick to acquit Corona–Palace

It’s a suprise. It’s not surprising. A trick. Anyway, we are not bothered. So, ignore it. But whatever neither-here-nor-there reactions to the reported high-powered Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) lobby in the Senate to acquit Chief Justice Renato Corona, one thing is clear: The reactors do not want to be on the wrong side of the politically influential INC.

Malacañang wouldn’t be surprised if certain people affiliated with the INC would lobby for the acquittal of Corona.

But a senior adviser to President Benigno Aquino III doubts that the lobbying would have the approval of the religious group’s leadership.


Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, a political adviser to the President, said the administration expected Corona to use every political tool available—even collect on past political debts—to influence senators as his impeachment trial neared its end.

“The impeachment trial is essentially a political process that is being played out in a highly charged political context,” Abad, a member of the President’s Liberal Party, said in a text message to the Inquirer.

“We expect CJ Rene Corona to be using all available political levers, even calling upon political debts, to try to influence the senators,” Abad said.

Asked if the administration had information of INC leaders trying to influence senators into pushing for Corona’s acquittal, Abad said, “Because it is common knowledge that the INC in the past has wielded its political clout in the arena of politics, that development will not be surprising.”

He went on: “But it was only until the [Philippine Daily Inquirer] came out with the report that we came to know, particularly of the alleged attempts by certain INC personalities to influence the senators. And even if that were true we also are not sure if those moves are in fact sanctioned by the INC hierarchy.”

Just a trick

Presidential adviser on political affairs Ronald Llamas said the lobbying was just a trick to pressure the senators into acquitting Corona.

But Llamas said the senators would not allow themselves to be pressured. And the government does not believe the INC would “allow itself to be used for political purposes,” Llamas said in a text message.


A legislative source told the Inquirer that INC officials Dan Orosa and Resty Lazaro approached senators during the Lenten break of Congress.

Manny Cuevas and Victor Cheng have also been mentioned as continuing the lobby when the impeachment trial resumed in early May. Manny Cuevas was earlier erroneously identified as the brother of Corona’s lead defense counsel, Serafin Cuevas, who is an Iglesia member.

Not bothered

Abad said he was not bothered by the supposed Iglesia lobby. He said he was confident that the senators would see the overwhelming evidence against the Chief Justice and vote to convict him.

“Remember, the overwhelming message in the 2010 elections that catapulted the Aquino administration to power was stop corruption and hold those who committed graft and corruption with impunity accountable to the people,” Abad said.

“The evidence so far gathered by the prosecution under Article 2 are enough, in my view, to convict Corona,” Abad said. “But the startling revelations of Ombudsman [Conchita] Carpio Morales on Corona’s dollar transactions based on [Anti-Money Laundering Council] documents have sealed Corona’s fate,” he added.

Article 2 of the House’s impeachment complaint against Corona involves his failure to disclose his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth.

Morales, summoned by the impeachment court as a hostile witness on the request of the defense, last week presented AMLC documents detailing movements in multimillion-dollar deposits in 82 bank accounts allegedly owned by Corona.

“With the intolerant attitude being displayed by our people against corruption and the overwhelming evidence now before the Senate, I don’t see how the senators can ignore these,” Abad said.

Clarify issues

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said Malacañang expected the senators to shed light on the reported Iglesia lobbying.

In an interview over state-run radio station dzRB, Valte said senators usually use breaks during the impeachment trial to clarify certain issues.

“Let’s see when the trial resumes on Tuesday if the senators will take the time to answer this particular item,” Valte.

Some of the senators would not wait until then to speak. They began talking on Friday, saying no lobbying by any group could sway them to vote for or against Corona.

Senators Aquilino Pimentel III, Vicente Sotto III, Gregorio Honasan II, Panfilo Lacson, Loren Legarda, Franklin Drilon, Francis Pangilinan and Ralph Recto said they had not been approached by Iglesia ni Cristo. Some of them doubted the INC would “stoop so low.”

“Any lobbying is useless,” Pimentel told the Inquirer by phone. “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.”

Lacson agreed: “Even if true, I trust that a great majority of 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 on assets that he did not declare in his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth would help his cause, Drilon said.

UNA targeted

The Iglesia lobby reportedly targeted members of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) of Vice President Jejomar Binay and former President Joseph Estrada.

The legislative source claimed that the INC’s Orosa and Lazaro met with Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile in Cagayan, and Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada in Manila. Enrile declined to be interviewed. Senator Estrada said he had not been approached.

Sotto, the Senate majority leader said it wasn’t surprising for any group from both sides to approach senators, as the impeachment trial is political.

“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,” Sotto said by phone. “You can’t prevent groups or persons from lobbying,” he said.

“For all you know, their name (INC) is only being used,” Sotto added.

Honasan said the reports of lobbying were “unfair” to both the INC and the senators, and distract from the trial.

“I think it’s a form of disrespect to the Iglesia and the senator-judges,” Honasan said by phone. “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.”

Ignore it

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.

“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.

“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.”

Corona will testify in his own defense on Tuesday.

Pangilinan said this could be “all speculation” and declined further comment.

Recto said he was “surprised” by the reports.

Drilon said: “I can state for a fact I was not approached.”

Pangilinan, Recto and Drilon are members the Liberal Party.

Legarda said she would rather “assess” the evidence and wait for Corona’s testimony on Tuesday.

House Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III, spokesperson of the prosecution panel, also doubted the INC would try to influence the verdict in Corona’s trial.

“I don’t think the INC will do that,” Tañada said by phone. “It will be unfair to the senator-judges. The senator-judges would want to base their decision on the evidence presented,” he said.

Tañada said he thought the INC was just an “observer like everyone else.” He said he believed the INC would look at the evidence presented and would base its stance on these. With reports from TJ Burgonio and Leila B. Salaverria

First posted 12:23 am | Sunday, May 20th, 2012

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TAGS: Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, Chief Justice Renato Corona, Corona acquittal, Corona Impeachment, Iglesia ni Cristo, INC, INC lobbying, President Benigno Aquino III
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