Aquino meets with Manalo at INC headquarters, says Palace exec
MANILA, Philippines–On the eve of Chief Justice Renato Corona’s appearance at his own impeachment trial in the Senate, President Benigno Aquino III on Monday met with the leader of the Iglesia ni Cristo, the group said to be supporting the embattled Supreme Court top official and lobbying for his acquittal in the Senate.
Secretary Edwin Lacierda, Aquino’s spokesperson, said the meeting between the President and INC Executive Minister Eduardo Manalo had nothing to do with INQUIRER reports of an alleged INC lobby to get Corona acquitted through the help of senators sitting as judges in his impeachment trial.
“The purpose of the President’s meeting was to touch base with Ka Eduardo and the Iglesia ni Cristo,” Lacierda said, reminding that after all the religious group had supported Aquino when he both ran for senator and for president.
Aquino has only met once with Manalo since assuming in June 2010, according to Lacierda, who said that was why the President wanted to meet with Manalo even before the Holy Week last month.
At a press briefing, Lacierda said the meeting happened at the INC headquarters in Quezon City at 9 a.m. Monday and that it was Mr. Aquino who sought for it.
Fending off questions on the timing of the President’s meeting with Manalo, Lacierda said the two men were supposed to have met even before the Holy Week but only did so on Monday when their schedules finally “jibed.”‘
He also said that it was just “unfortunate” that the meeting between Aquino and Manalo happened when the INQUIRER reported that INC officials were allegedly meeting with some senators to ask them to vote for the acquittal of Corona.
“This has nothing to do with the news about the lobbying of the INC,” Lacierda said of Monday’s alleged surprise meeting.
When reporters asked why the meeting was not in Aquino’s schedule for Monday, Lacierda said this was a “private meeting” and that the Palace also do not inform the media about all his private meetings that included his attendance of wakes, among others.
The meeting of the President and Manalo came a day before Corona was set to appear Tuesday at the Senate impeachment court to defend himself from accusations that he owned dollar bank deposits and failed to report them as part of his assets in his statement on assets, liabilities and net worth.
Lacierda said the President and INC head discussed a “slew of topics” and that included the impeachment case of Corona “because it’s one of the burning issues of the day.”
“The President explained to Ka Eduardo the reasons for the impeachment, that this is part of his reform agenda, and basically [the meeting] was just to touch base with the INC,” Lacierda said.
Asked whether the Chief Executive asked Manalo about the reported INC lobby for Corona, he said that he had no other details of the meeting only the fact that Aquino “only mentioned the reason why there was an impeachment against Chief Justice Corona and he explained his reasons.”
Asked whether there was any assurance given to the President by Manalo that there was no INC lobby for Corona, Lacierda said he had no details on that question.
But he reminded that Palace officials have already denied there was an INC lobby.
When asked whether the President needed all the support he can get such as that from the INC, Lacierda reiterated the purpose of Aquino’s meeting with Manalo was to “touch base with his supporters.
“And you don’t need to get the support right now. The decision is not being made by the President. He’s not going to rule on the fate of the Chief Justice. It’s … going to be the senators who are going to rule on the fate of the Chief Justice,” he said.
Told the INC nevertheless still yielded influence over groups, Lacierda said: “We don’t believe that there is an INC lobby for the Chief Justice.”
Apart from the impeachment case, Lacierda said that President Aquino also talked about what his government had been doing.
Lacierda said he met with Aquino shortly after the latter arrived in Malacañang following his meeting with Manalo and that the Chief Executive was OK and was preparing for his next meeting.
He described the relationship between Aquino and the INC as “warm.”
Told that some members of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines members were reportedly supporting Corona, Lacierda said that the CBCP has not come up with an official position but noted that “any organization can make a position.”
“Right now, it is … in the hands of the senator-judges. So let’s wait for testimony of Chief Justice Corona,” Lacierda said.
Presidential political adviser Ronald Llamas, who was in Davao when the meeting took place Monday morning, said that the meeting nevertheless showed the two parties were talking. “It’s a good sign, whatever the agenda, that there’s dialogue and openness,” Llamas said in a text message to the INQUIRER.
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