And did Revilla tell his party boss GMA about it?
Commentary by Raïssa Robles
Is President Benigno Aquino’s meeting with Senator Bong Revilla during the Corona impeachment trial the same as President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s phone call to Comelec Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano while her votes were being counted in the 2004 presidential polls?
Some people seemed shocked that PNoy would meet with opposition Senator Revilla, while the latter was a senator-judge at the Senate impeachment trial of then Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona. And it now turns out PNoy also met with opposition Senator Jinggoy Estrada.
I wasn’t shocked. I was amused. As a long-time observer of the wheeling and dealing in Philippine politics, I thought the President really went out on a limb to make good his promise – that Corona would be convicted and that would make it easier to have Arroyo detained as well on corruption charges.
UPDATE as of 12:59 PM, Jan. 24, 2014
Upon the request of some commenters, I have uploaded the entire speech of Senator Bong Revilla. You can read it by clicking here.
I wondered why, in the first place, Revilla agreed to meet with Aquino and Transport Secretary Mar Roxas, both stalwarts of the Liberal Party.
Revilla never revealed – who asked for the meeting?
I wondered whether Revilla told his Lakas Party chair Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo about his meeting with the political enemy. Before or after. Revilla surely knew what unseating the Chief Justice would mean for Arroyo. She would lose her judicial shield and be vulnerable to court suits.
I’m guessing that Revilla never told Arroyo of the meeting. Because after he had cast his “Guilty” vote against Corona, House minority leader Danilo Suarez told reporters that Arroyo was disappointed with the senator’s vote because Revilla – who happens to be president and vice-chair of Lakas – did not vote along party lines. Suarez said:
“He (Revilla) told us it was a personal decision and that it should not be taken as a party matter,” said Suarez. Revilla is president and vice chair of Lakas-CMD.
When Revilla voted against Corona, he said in part:
“As much as the Chief Justice of the Republic of the Philippines expects and demands, and is worthy of all the respect and considerations due to his office and to his person, he in return has the responsibility to be the epitome of a public servant with the highest ethical standards.
Bilang pinakamataas na mahistrado ng bansang ito, ang kanyang panunungkulan ay dapat walang bahid kahit katiting, dahil sa mandato ng kanyang katungkulan at kahalagahan ng kanyang posisyon.
In the end, I arrived with a conclusion that, through his own direct admission, the Chief Justice failed to properly disclose all of his assets in his SALN. This therefore has necessary consequences that attach to the position he holds in trust.
I prayed hard for Divine Providence and guidance in this one great decision of my life.
Napakahirap man, alang-alang sa pagkakaisa at paghilom ng ating bayan; alang-alang sa pagpapatibay ng mga institusyon ng ating pamahalaan; alang-alang sa mga darating pang henerasyon at ng ating kinabukasan; I FIND CHIEF JUSTICE RENATO C. CORONA GUILTY.”
People might remember that it’s not the first time that Revilla abandoned a party chief. In January 2001, he also abandoned the beleaguered President Joseph Estrada and humiliated him publicly by saying, “Ninong, bumaba ka na.”
By the way, there is something very curious about Revilla’s privilege speech. He was speaking all throughout in Filipino and even while he was recounting what had happened inside Bahay Pangarap where he joined President Aquino for breakfast, Revilla was reading from a prepared speech. He’s a multi-awarded actor, right? I wonder why he could not have committed his speech to memory. Or at least not refer to his script those parts where he was talking about himself and his meeting with Aquino, Sec. Roxas and Budget Sec. Butch Abad.
Revilla recounted in his privilege speech:
“Habang nag-aalmusal kami ng pan de sal, kesong puti, itlog, hamon, tapa, sinangag, at mga prutas, bumangka si Secretary Mar tungkol sa mga dahilan kung bakit dapat ma-impeach si dating Chief Justice Corona. Bago kami magtapos, nagulat ako nang sinabi sa akin ng Presidente… “Pare, parang awa mo na, Ibalato mo na sa akin ito. Kailangan siya ma-impeach.”
I can’t believe PNoy begged like that, being the cacique that he is. The words are out of character.
Notice, too, that Revilla claimed PNoy said – “Ibalato mo na sa akin ito.” He did not quote PNoy as saying – “Balatuhan kita pag nagawa mo ito.”
Revilla’s narration indicates that PNoy was asking him a favor.
Revilla said he was taken aback by what PNoy said:
“Aaminin ko sa inyo, ako ay nabigla dahil tila dinidiktahan ako ng Pangulo kaya ang naging sagot ko na lang, ‘Mr. President, I will do what is right. Naniniwala po ako na dapat manindigan sa tama, at gagawin ko lang po ang tama para sa bayan.’”
In his privilege speech, Revilla then castigated the President saying,
“Ginoong Pangulo, kung pag-uusapan lang naman po natin ang tama at mali, tama po ba na habang nililitis ang dating Chief Justice na si Renato Corona ay kailangang makialam ang mismong Pangulo ng Republika sa isang prosesong legal na dapat ay independiyente?”
Revilla used the word “makialam” or meddle in a legal process that is supposed to be independent.
However, if Revilla believes it was wrong for PNoy to “meddle”, why in the first place did he meet with PNoy? Surely, he knew the impeachment case would come up. And so we also have to ask the question – was it right for a senator-judge to meet with the Philippine president during an impeachment case of the Chief Justice with whom PNoy was publicly at odds?
The explanation of Dean Tony La Viña of the Ateneo School of Government is spot on:
“As to whether the President should have intervened at all, the answer lies in the political nature of impeachment proceedings. I would have been surprised if President Aquino did not make any effort to secure the conviction.”
Senator Miriam Santiago also said presidential meddling is a given in our democracy, provided no bribe was offered:
“If President Aquino merely confined himself to attempts to influence the outcome of the impeachment trial last year, he did not commit a crime. But if he bribed the senator-judges to convict the accused, then he is guilty of bribery as prohibited by law and as a ground for his own impeachment under the Constitution. It is not a crime for the President to try to influence the outcome, because an impeachment trial is both legal and political in nature. It is illegal for the President to try and influence the courts, because of the principle of independence of the judiciary. But it is legal for the President to try and influence the senator-judges, because he is the nominal head of his political party, and within bounds, he has the right to assure his political survival.”
The very nature of impeachment invites presidential meddling because he heads the administration party which – if it wants its program of government implemented – has to have majority control of Congress. And impeachment is both a party matter and one of Congress’ powers.
However, did PNoy offer Senator Revilla a bribe?
PNoy said no bribe was offered. His meeting was only meant to provide a counter-pressure:
“Napakaraming reports na confirmed na may mga sector na ang bigat nung pressure na ineexert dito sa mga senador para i-decide ang kaso hindi sa merito ng kaso … parang ang daming sinasabi na i-exhonorate mo si Corona at ito ang mapapala ninyo.
“So tama ba naman na tatabi na lang ako habang lahat itong mga sektor na ito eh talagang nananakot, nangpe-pressure, kung anu-anong ginagawa dun sa mga senador? Palagay ko naman ay natural lang na itanong ko sa kanila, i-confirm ko, at maparamdam ko naman rin sa kanila na meron naman ibang, kung gagawin nila yung tama, ay handang sumuporta sa kanila.”
Secretary Mar Roxas, who had brought Revilla to Malacanang Palace, said a curious thing. He said it was to discuss one of Revilla’s pet bills:
“Senator Bong and I used to be in the Senate together. So, when he said he had some issues to discuss with the President, which included the cityhood of Bacoor and his being head of the Lakas Party, I found a way to set up their meeting.”
Revilla never breathed a word about the cityhood of Bacoor in his privilege speech.
Was it possible that Sen. Revilla was also wheeling and dealing – which again is very much a part of our democracy? Was Revilla willing to meet with the president in exchange for his approval of a law that would convert the town of Bacoor into a city? Was he open to casting a vote to convict Corona in exchange? If that’s the case, who was bribing whom?
Revilla neglected to say the exact date of his meeting with PNoy and Roxas.
All he said was that he took a photo of Mar Roxas inside the latter’s vehicle on the way to the presidential palace “before the conclusion of the impeachment of then Chief Justice Renato Corona.”
Corona was convicted on May 29, 2012.
The palace meeting must have happened before that then.
Sec. Mar said the meeting discussed the cityhood of Bacoor. So the meeting must have taken place before the cityhood was approved and PNoy signed it into law. RA 10160 was approved by Congress on February 8, 2012 and signed into law by PNoy on April 10, 2012 – nearly two months before Corona’s conviction.
If that was the bribe, PNoy was taking a gamble that Sen. Revilla would be true to his word and convict Corona after getting what the Revilla clan had wanted for a long time.
Interestingly, PNoy and Revilla were among the co-sponsors of the creation of Bacoor as a separate legislative district in 2009. It was the first step to cityhood.
Now let’s turn to PNoy. Was his meeting with Revilla the equivalent of that infamous call of a woman referred to as “PGMA” to Garci?
The voice of the woman named “PGMA” sounded very much like President Arroyo in those recorded tapes. PGMA called Garci while the votes were being canvassed. Notoriously, in the Philippines, that was when votes were fraudulently padded.
PGMA phoned Garci on May 29, 2004 to ask: “So I will still lead by more than one ‘M’ overall?” (meaning over a million votes).
Garci replied, “That’s how it would turn out.”
PGMA then said, “It cannot be less than one M?”
And Garci replied, “We will force that outcome. But as of the other day, 982” (meaning 982,000 votes).
PGMA then pointed out, “That’s why.”
In one other conversation, Garci told PGMA he wanted the family of a female witness to election fraud abducted. PGMA did not say anything.
In this case, Garci seemed to indicate that a margin of over a million votes would be “forced” long after the voting had finished. There is no way this could be done legally.
Garci also suggested kidnapping. And the President of the Republic did not say – you can’t do that. That’s illegal.
Now put this side by side with what Revilla said PNoy allegedly told him: “Pare, parang awa mo na, Ibalato mo na sa akin ito. Kailangan siya ma-impeach.”
Here, we can see, PGMA was talking of fraud. PNoy was talking of a constitutional process like impeachment.
What probably stunned a lot of people in the case of Revilla was that PNoy went out on a limb to personally talk to leading opposition figures to lobby for Corona’s impeachment.
It was not PNoy’s best moment but he knew that if he did not secure Corona’s conviction he would have a very troubled presidency and those who voted him to office because of his campaign promise to bring Arroyo before the bar of law would turn against him.
But even then, unlike the woman named PGMA, PNoy did not mention rigging any count, or kidnapping any witnesses.