INC asked Aquino to keep church out of impeachment stunts – source
MANILA, Philippines — Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) leaders told President Benigno Aquino III on Monday to leave them out of any publicity stunt aimed at defeating efforts of Chief Justice Renato Corona to get himself acquitted in his impeachment trial.
The meeting between the President and the leaders of the 3-million-strong, bloc-voting Iglesia ni Cristo came on the eve of Corona’s testimony in his own defense at the Senate and amid reports of INC lobbying for his acquittal.
A reliable INC source, who requested not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the press, said the Iglesia elders bluntly told the President during a meeting in the church’s headquarters in Diliman, Quezon City, that they “do not appreciate” being dragged in the fray.
“President Aquino was initially asked whether the report that INC leaders were approaching senator-judges to lobby for Corona’s acquittal came from Malacañang,” the source said.
“And the Sanggunian (the INC’s council of elders) stressed that they had nothing to do with any effort to acquit Corona,” the source said.
And then the elders issued a veiled threat.
“The INC leaders stressed that although they are forbearing, their patience is not inexhaustible,” the source said.
The source’s exact words in Filipino: “Mahaba ang pasensiya namin, pero darating sa punto na madadarang na kami.”
“The elders asked that they be left out of the controversy surrounding the Chief Justice. [They have nothing to do with it],” the source said.
INC Executive Minister Eduardo Manalo led the council at the meeting with the President, which lasted 30 minutes, the source said.
The INC has been linked to Corona’s impeachment trial principally because the leader of Chief Justice’s defense team, Serafin Cuevas, is an Iglesia follower.
Last week, a congressional source told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that INC leaders Resty Lazaro and Dan Orosa met with Senate leaders to ensure Corona’s acquittal in his impeachment trial.
But presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said the meeting between the President and Manalo had nothing to do with the reported Iglesia lobbying for Corona’s acquittal.
“The purpose of the President’s meeting was to touch base with Ka Eduardo and the Iglesia ni Cristo,” Lacierda told a press briefing in Malacañang. He reminded the reporters that the INC supported Aquino when he ran for senator and for president.
Lacierda said Aquino had met with Manalo only once since coming to office in June 2010.
Fending off questions about the timing of Mr. Aquino’s meeting with Manalo, Lacierda said the two men were supposed to meet before Holy Week but met only on Monday when their schedules finally “jibed.”
Lacierda said President Aquino and Manalo discussed a “slew of topics” and that included the impeachment 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 it was just to touch base with the INC,” Lacierda said.
Asked whether the President asked Manalo about the reported INC lobbying for Corona, he said that he had no other information from the meeting, only that Aquino “only mentioned the reason why there was an impeachment against Chief Justice Corona and he explained his reasons.”
But he reminded the reporters that Palace officials had already denied there was an INC lobby.
Told that the INC nevertheless wielded influence over groups, Lacierda said, “We don’t believe that there is an INC lobby for the Chief Justice.”
But even if the Iglesia is lobbying the Senate for Corona’s acquittal, there is nothing wrong with it, according to three senators.
Senators Edgardo Angara, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Ralph Recto said on Monday in separate interviews that the reported Iglesia lobby could be considered part of the political character of Corona’s impeachment trial.
The three made it clear, however, that they were not among the senators the Iglesia emissaries had been seeing.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile evaded questions about the Iglesia lobby. Reports said he was among the senators whom the emissaries tried to convince to vote for Corona’s acquittal.
“No one, no one has approached me. I quarantined myself,” Enrile said before walking away from television cameras.
Angara said even media entities would lobby for certain causes so the Iglesia lobby was “not objectionable.”
“This is a political body,” Angara said, referring to the Senate impeachment court. “Such moves are considered part of the political nature of an impeachment trial.”
“What is bad is being partisan–when the presentation of evidence is not yet finished yet one is already determined to vote a certain way. Or if your vote is based on who your friends are,” Angara said.
Angara played down suggestions that the INC may be targeting reelectionist senators who would need the Iglesia’s support in next year’s midterm elections.
“That should not be our conclusion,” Angara said. “All sectors, whether religious like the INC or a civilian group, or a nonsectarian group, can talk to concerned parties or lobby for (either) side of this issue,” he added.
“But if a lobby group approaches you, there is a need for disclosure and transparency. You should not hide this (‘hindi mo tinatago’),” Angara said.
Marcos said he had had several talks with INC followers, but none about Corona’s trial.
“But if they want to talk about the impeachment trial, just talking to them is harmless. Let’s put it this way, no one has approached me, not about the trial,” he said.
Still, Marcos said it would be part of the INC’s right to express their views to senators.
“They believe in something and they want it brought to the attention of senators,” he said. “If they are citizens, they have every right to express their opinion. They are also Filipinos.”
Recto denied any meeting with the INC but likened such an encounter to his regular talks with his constituents in Batangas.
“People in Batangas come to me and express their views about the trial. They take the time so I listen to them but it does not mean they can influence me,” Recto said. “In the case of the INC, it would be the same but it hasn’t happened.”
In the House of Representatives, Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales III said the President’s decision to meet with Iglesia leaders on the eve of Corona’s appearance in the Senate trial was part of Mr. Aquino’s emphasis on good government.
“I don’t see anything wrong even on the assumption that the President went there for purposes including to state his position regarding this impeachment,” Gonzales said. “The President has never kept his sentiment on the impeachment. It will not be good if a president is insensitive to the position of his former allies or ignores contrary opinions.”
Gonzales said meetings to clear the air among leaders were “not uncommon.”
“But I don’t suppose that the President went there to stop the INC from what it is doing, assuming that reports of its lobbying are true,” he said.
House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez said that the President’s last-minute visit to INC leaders indicated the “panic” among prosecution members. “Why would he go there if he was confident of a conviction?” Suarez said. With a report from Gil C. Cabacungan Jr.
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