Keep us out of Corona issue, says Iglesia ni CristoBy Cathy C. Yamsuan, Christine O. Avendaño
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) leaders told President Benigno Aquino III on Monday to leave them out of any publicity stunts aimed at defeating efforts by 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 INC 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 at the church’s headquarters in Diliman, Quezon City, that they “do not appreciate” being dragged into 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 (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 had met with Senate leaders to ensure Corona’s acquittal in his impeachment trial.
Nothing to do with lobby
But Mr. Aquino’s spokesperson, Edwin Lacierda, said the meeting between the President and Manalo had nothing to do with the reported INC 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 reporters that the INC supported Mr. Aquino when he ran for senator and for president.
Lacierda said Mr. Aquino had met with Manalo only once since coming to office in June 2010.
Fending off questions about the timing of the meeting, Lacierda said the two men were supposed to meet before Holy Week but met only yesterday when their schedules finally “jibed.”
‘Slew of topics’
Lacierda said the President and Manalo discussed a “slew of topics” 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, Lacierda said he had no other information from the meeting, only that Mr. Aquino “only mentioned the reason why there was an impeachment against Chief Justice Corona and he explained his reasons.”
But Lacierda reminded 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 INC 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 Monday in separate interviews that the Iglesia lobby was 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 lobby for certain causes so the Iglesia lobby was “not objectionable.”
Trial is political
“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, one is already determined to vote a certain way. Or if your vote is based on who your friends are,” he 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,” he 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.”
“But if a lobby group approaches you, there is a need for disclosure and transparency. You should not hide this,” 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.”
Clear the air
In the House of Representatives, Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales III said the President’s decision to meet with INC 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 the President’s last-minute visit to INC leaders belied 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