Palace meddling alarming, says Joker Arroyo

Former Sen. Joker Arroyo on Thursday raised alarm over Palace statements downplaying President Aquino's attempt at influencing senators in the 2012 impeachment trial of then Chief Justice Renato Corona.

Arroyo said the President's act, alleged by Sen. Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr., set a "bad precedent" because any trial should be independent.

And for anyone to claim that it was "permissible" for the President to interfere with an impeachment trial simply because it was a political exercise was alarming, he said.

"The proposition advanced that it is altogether permissible for the President to inquire or discuss or even influence a senator in an ongoing impeachment trial where he sits as a judge is alarming because, among others, it would establish a menacing doctrine as precedent," Arroyo said in an interview.

If this is accepted, it will give the next President the idea that he or she could also meddle in an impeachment trial, said the former senator.

"Are we to say that henceforth, the next President, whoever he may be, may subtly meddle in an impeachment proceeding of say another justice or a constitutional officer before the Senate all because the exercise is anyhow political in character?" he said.

In a privilege speech on Monday, Revilla said Aquino pleaded with him to vote to impeach Corona over breakfast at Bahay Pangarap in the Malacañang compound before the impeachment trial was concluded.

Revilla, who is facing a plunder complaint in connection with the P10-billion pork barrel scam, said Interior Secretary Mar Roxas drove him in his SUV from the Roxas home in Cubao, Quezon City, to Malacanang.

Aquino confirmed meeting with Revilla as well as with Senators Jinggoy Estrada, Teofisto Guingona III and Ralph Recto in the middle of the Corona trial.

Aquino claimed that he did so only to "lessen the pressure" being exerted on the senators by some "interest groups" seeking Corona's acquittal.

Twenty senators, including Revilla, voted to convict Corona for dishonesty in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth in May 2012 following a highly politically charged trial.

Arroyo and Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Ferdinand Marcos Jr. voted to acquit Corona.

When the House of Representatives transmits the articles of impeachment for trial to the Senate, "no matter that it may have been forged by the President, the President steps out," senators step in and decide the fate of the impeached defendant, Arroyo said.

Fair trial

He said the due process protection required that the defendant must be tried before an impartial tribunal-in short a fair trial.

"You can't have a trial that is not fair. Can you have a trial that is fair? If it's not fair, it's no good," he said on the phone. "How can a trial be impartial when members can be called by the President and members talk to the President?"

The former senator wondered if the credibility of the President and that of the senator was playing out in the attempts to downplay the President's act.

If the notion of a President's interference in a trial persisted, Arroyo said the country risked witnessing a trial reminiscent of martial law.

"For how could the towering constitutionalists of the martial law era-Senators Lorenzo Tanada, Jose W. Diokno, Jovito Salonga, Soc Rodrigo and others who had no equals on the other side-lose practically all their cases before the Marcos-controlled Supreme Court, and our national hero, Ninoy Aquino, been sentenced to be shot by musketry by Military Commission No. 2, whose members were all appointed by President Marcos? The consequence of presidential empowerment by acquiescence or indifference," he said.

"We must be guided by our past. Because of indifference and acquiescence, we are empowering the President to interfere," he added.

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