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Palace pressuring me to quit–Cuevas

Malacañang to Corona lawyer: Name emissary

Serafin Cuevas

Who wants retired Supreme Court Justice Serafin Cuevas out of the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona?

The 83-year-old Cuevas, who has become a sort of a rock star because of his performance as lead defense counsel in the afternoon TV-radio spectacle before a nationwide audience, has revealed purported efforts by Malacañang to get him out just two weeks into the Senate trial.

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Cuevas said he had been approached on a number of occasions by a lawyer to deliver a supposed message from Malacañang.

He said he was being asked to leave the defense panel in exchange for the withdrawal of the criminal case against Magtanggol Gatdula, the recently sacked director of the National Bureau of Investigation.

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“I was told that the President wanted me out as a bargaining chip in the case, that they would no longer pursue it provided that I withdraw,” the counsel said in Filipino in an interview with the Inquirer in his Makati City office on Saturday night.

Cuevas is also the legal counsel of the influential Iglesia ni Cristo (INC), of which Gatdula is also a member. Gatdula has been implicated in the alleged kidnapping of an undocumented Japanese woman.

Cuevas identified the emissary, supposedly a member of Malacañang’s “rah-rah” boys, but asked that his name be withheld. He said the man, his former student at the University of the Philippines’ College of Law, feared Palace repercussions.

“I know him to be with Malacañang, (but) I’m not sure whether he’s authorized or he is doing it himself,” the defense counsel said. “I don’t speak with the President anyway … I do not want to add credence to that.”

Asked for comment, presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said in a phone interview that if Cuevas had proof, he should identify the emissary.

Palace: Identify emissary

“Let’s not dwell on anonymity. He owes it to the public to identify the person,” said Lacierda, who repeated the Palace satisfaction at the way the trial was proceeding. “The [pieces of] evidence speak for themselves,” he told the Inquirer.

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Lacierda also said he saw “no causal connection” between Cuevas and Gatdula other than that both of them were INC members.

In the interview with the Inquirer, Cuevas said he had also been receiving some form of “harassment” lately in connection with a couple of family-owned buildings in Quezon City.

Days after the impeachment trial began, he said he was suddenly asked to submit the book of accounts, supposedly for the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), to check if the right taxes were being paid.

“Why only now?” Cuevas said. “It’s no small thing. It’s serious. I don’t know what will follow next.”

He added: “It gives a chilling effect. But I don’t know if the President knows about it. Perhaps, it’s only the handiwork of people who want to look good before him.”

Holding punches

Cuevas said the inquiry into the Quezon City properties was similar to an incident involving BIR officers shortly after he went public as a counsel for then Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, who resigned rather than undergo an impeachment trial.

He said three BIR officers went to his law office in Salcedo Village one day and began investigating.

“Make sure you do it right because you know how life is—today you are up, tomorrow you may be down,” he told the BIR officers in Filipino, adding that the incident “scared away” many of his clients.

Not easy task

“If they are no longer in position, that’s the time they will see what kind of blows we will deliver,” Cuevas said. “We are holding our punches. We cannot unleash the full fury of our punch because of the existing circumstances.”

He said he was unfazed by the pressure on him to quit the Corona defense team.

So far in the trial, Cuevas has been both criticized and commended for the way he has been defending the Chief Justice, particularly in the face of allegations that he had amassed ill-gotten wealth, a charge not included in the existing articles of impeachment.

Cuevas said Corona had personally asked him to serve as his lead defense counsel. He said he and his entire family were initially against the idea given the possible harassment that might come their way.

“It’s not easy because you’re up against Malacañang,” he said.

President Aquino has been openly campaigning for the removal of Corona, alleging that he was a roadblock to his reform programs and his campaign promise to prosecute former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for electoral sabotage and corruption.

Corona earlier fired back, saying the President was showing dictatorial tendencies by attempting to control the judiciary. With a report from Christine O. Avendaño

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TAGS: alleged Malacañang emmisary, Chief Justice Renato Corona, Corona impeachment trial, Magtanggol Gatdula, retired Supreme Court Justice Serafin Cuevas
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