'PNoy meeting with INC not prompted by lobbying'

By Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 21 2012 01:15 PM | Updated as of May 21 2012 10:27 PM

Senators deny being approached by INC

MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE)  - Malacañang confirmed President Aquino’s meeting with Iglesia ni Cristo Executive Minister Eduardo Manalo this morning at its central office in Quezon City.
But presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda denied that the meeting was prompted by reports that the INC is lobbying for the acquittal of Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Lacierda said the meeting was being arranged since before Holy Week and was set before the reports came out.
He said the purpose of the meeting was for the President to “touch base” with the Iglesia ni Cristo leadership, the INC being one of the President’s supporters during the 2010 elections.
The President merely explained to Manalo the reasons why Malacañang is supporting the impeachment of Corona, saying it is part of his reform agenda. There was “a slew” of other topics discussed, according to Lacierda.
“Yes, the impeachment was discussed 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. Basically it was just to touch base with Iglesia ni Cristo,” Lacierda said.
He denied the President courted the INC’s support for Corona’s conviction, adding that in the first place, Palace officials have publicly echoed their doubts that the INC is lobbying for Corona.
“The purpose of the President is to touch base with the supporters. 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,” Lacierda said. 
Asked why the meeting was not included in the President’s schedule, Lacierda said the President’s meeting with Manalo is a private meeting and that the Palace does not usually include private meetings in the schedule handed out to reporters.
Lacierda said the President had also previously met with representatives of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.  

Senators deny being approached by INC

Meantime, senator-judges in the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona denied being approached by the INC to lobby for his acquittal.

The information came out in a report by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, which cited an anonymous source.

"Walang pumupunta sa akin. I quarantined myself already," said Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile.

Sen. Edgardo Angara, on the other hand, refused to answer when asked if any member of the influential religious group, known to deliver millions of votes during elections, ever approached him to lobby for Corona.

But if it happens, he said it's not objectionable.

"I think there is nothing wrong with constituents to talk to their representative government. Hindi ba 'yon ang konsepto ng ating demokrasya, representative government?" Angara said.

Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. also sees nothing wrong with entertaining lobbyists from either side in the impeachment trial, although no one has visited him. In the end, he said it's the senator-judges who will decide.

He also believes it's "natural" for President Aquino to talk to the INC even during the heat of the trial. On Monday, Malacanang confirmed that the President met with INC leaders.

"It is natural for the President to go and to speak and to consult about all these things and about anything," he said.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan, meanwhile, would rather not entertain lobbyists. He said no one has approached him so far.

"It would be better for us to maintain our impartiality and neutrality," he told reporters. -- with a report from Ryan Chua, ABS-CBN News