MANILA, MAY 22, 2012 (ABS-CBN) By Ira Pedrasa - Malacanang admitted on Monday that President Benigno Aquino III “touched base” with Iglesia ni Cristo Executive Minister Eduardo Manalo, with the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona foremost in the discussion.

Talks of the meeting surfaced early this morning, especially after the Palace did not inform the media of the schedule between Aquino and the influential religious group at the latter’s offices.

This comes amid reports alleging that the INC has been lobbying for the acquittal of Corona among senator-judges, especially those linked with Vice President Jejomar Binay’s United Nationalist Alliance.

In a press conference, Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda denied they kept the information and has, in fact, come out in the open to disclose and admit to the news.

He admitted the timing was suspect amid news of lobbying, but he said there is nothing irregular in the meeting.

“It was just to touch base with the INC,” he said, even if Aquino has admitted to explaining his reasons for backing the impeachment of Corona.

He said both leaders already tried to come up with a schedule even during the Holy Week, but both were very busy. A schedule was finally met this morning, he said.

Asked why Aquino had to explain his position, Lacierda said “it was a burning issue of the day.”

He said it was not uncommon for any president to reach out to the influential group. He said it is not Aquino who will decide Corona’s case but the senator judges.

He said the INC has been a big help during Aquino’s campaign first in the senatorial elections, and then his presidential campaign.

It was Aquino who went to the INC headquarters, which has always been the practice, he added. He described the relationship between INC and the administration as “warm.”

He said Aquino, along with other Cabinet officials, also reached out to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines three months ago.

He said he will check Aquino’s schedule if he intends to meet with other religious groups.

Luisita farmers give all out support for CJ By Ira Pedrasa, Posted at 05/20/2012 5:50 PM | Updated as of 05/21/2012 9:49

CJ: Team is complete, we are ready

MANILA, Philippines - Chief Justice Renato Corona will not be alone on Tuesday as he faces the most difficult obstacle yet in his life and career.

Besides his wife Cristina and children Carla and Francis, expected to join him as he goes to the Senate are some court officials and employees, judges, prayers warriors as well as farmers of the Hacienda Luisita.

In a phone interview, Noel Mallari, one of the leaders of the Luisita farmers, said if they had the resources, they would want to join Corona. “Isa ang Supreme Court sa mga nakatulong sa makatarungong desisyon para sa mga magsasaka,” he said.

He said they were at the right time and place when they joined Corona on Thursday during his second anniversary in office. They thanked Corona for an SC decision that ordered the distribution of the Cojuangco-owned sugar estate in Tarlac as well as pegging the just compensation price to a much lower 1989 rate.

Corona earlier said the administration was the mastermind behind the ouster try. He said President Aquino himself was out to retaliate against him for the distribution of Hacienda Luisita.

After the mass, he told the farmers: “Tinaya ko na po ang buhay ko para sa inyo. Tinaya ko na ang lahat para sa inyo.”

Mallari said they fear that the decision would be overturned if Corona is ousted. He added farmers are more concerned that the issue of the just compensation will be tweaked.

He said the farmers were also supposed to request the SC to put in place a commission that would monitor the distribution of the land. He said they failed to inform Corona of their request when members of the media tried to mob the chief justice after the mass on Thursday.

Mallari said he can only hope that the land distribution will not face any obstacles.

No truth to rumors

Meanwhile, Corona denied two of his counsels are bolting out of the team. “Intrigue lang yun,” he said in a text message.



Text messages against Corona continue to be received by journalists ahead of his make-or-break testimony two days from now.

Corona and his team said they have already prepared and are “still preparing” despite the intrigues thrown their way.

Defense lawyer Ramon Esguerra said, “More than the defense team, there are other volunteer support groups helping him. Needless to stress, his family is totally behind him, with those who believe in him and his cause. I believe that he is a man deep in his faith in God. The CJ, as I see it, draws his strength from an abundance of God's grace.”

On Sunday, lawyer Harry Roque posted in his Facebook and Twitter accounts the following: “Sinking ship: first Karen Jimeno goes missing. Now, Judd Roy withdrawing as counsel. Bye bye Corona”

He did not answer upon queries from his friends if the news is true.

Esguerra dismissed the rumor, saying, “We just finished a defense meeting. Karen and Judd were both present and took an active part in the discussions.”

In response to Roque’s Twitter post, Jimeno answered: "Hi Prof Roque! What's the source of this news? I just came from a defense mtg where Judd & I were there w/ the whole team."

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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