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Aquino ready to face charges
Publication Date : 22-01-2014
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III will not shy away from any battle with his political enemies after he admitted that he personally met with Senators Ramon Revilla Jr., Jinggoy Estrada, Ralph Recto and Teofisto Guingona III at the height of the impeachment trial of then Chief Justice Renato Corona.
“It’s not the first time that it has been hinted that there could be an impeachment motion, and the President has always replied that he’s prepared to meet any such motion that may be filed,” said Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma.
“He’s ready to face it if this would be filed by members of Congress,” Coloma told the Inquirer shortly after Aquino confirmed Revilla’s revelation in a privilege speech on Monday that the senator met with the President at his official residence, “Bahay Pangarap,” and that he also met on separate occasions with Estrada, Recto and Guingona.
Coloma, however, quickly stressed that there was nothing irregular or improper for the Chief Executive, who is the titular head of the ruling Liberal Party (LP), to meet with Revilla, the president of Lakas-CMD.
Except for Estrada, the two other senators are both LP members.
Asked if the President’s meeting with senator-judges was inappropriate during the highly charged Corona trial, Coloma said:
“Where’s the impropriety? That’s what we’re asking from those saying it. The President is the political leader of the nation, and part of his regular duty is to interact and have discussions with other political leaders,” he said.
Asked about the possibility of an impeachment move against the President, Coloma said, “It’s the call of members of the House of Representatives, and we respect that House as a separate and coequal branch of the government.”
Revilla took to the Senate floor on Monday to deny accusations of wrongdoing in connection with the alleged 10-billion-peso (US$228 million) pork barrel scam under investigation by the Office of the Ombudsman. Also under investigation for plunder are Estrada and Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile.
Contrary to Interior Secretary Mar Roxas’ account that Revilla was seeking support for a city status for Bacoor in Cavite province, the President said he wanted to confirm with the actor-politician over breakfast intelligence reports that senator-judges were under pressure to “exonerate” Corona.
“We were trying to lessen the pressure on all of them,” Aquino said.
“What I was trying to do was basically ensure that they decide on the merits of the case rather than any other outside factor,” he said.
Move to counter pressure
“So was it right for me to just step aside while all these sectors were really threatening, pressuring and doing things to our senators?” the President said in Filipino.
“I think it was just natural that I ask them, confirm with them, and make them feel that there were people who were ready to support them if they would do the right thing,” he added.
He said he would “appear so irresponsible” if he did not move to counter the reported pressure. He also sought to justify the clandestine manner in which he met with Revilla, citing the purported pressure on the senators.
He said holding the meeting in a “wrong venue” would “not lead to an exchange of ideas” but would “further add to the pressure”.
Coloma said the President did not regret meeting with Revilla, insisting also that “there was no impropriety” in the affair. “No. I repeat, the issue here is not the impeachment. The issue here is PDAF [Priority Development Assistance Fund] and Senator Revilla has to explain,” he said.
“The privilege speech of Senator Revilla could have been a good opportunity for responding to the people’s clamour for a full explanation on what happened to the PDAF allocation that he received from 2007 to 2009,” he said in a separate statement.
Coloma said Revilla’s speech on Monday was “a plain attempt to divert public attention from the real issue,” referring to the alleged diversion to ghost projects and kickbacks of state funds meant for lawmakers’ pet projects to ease rural poverty.
“As an elected public official, the senator is expected to fully account for the PDAF allocation that he received. The main issue is PDAF and it is the right of the people to be given a full explanation.”