Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Why Cuevas ‘forced’ to deny Inquirer story

Retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Serafin Cuevas was forced to deny a Philippine Daily Inquirer report regarding his claim that a Malacañang emissary had asked him to withdraw as lead defense lawyer for Chief Justice Renato Corona after “a dressing down” from an Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) official.

An INC insider said leaders of the religious group were shocked upon reading the newspaper story in which Cuevas said that an emissary whom he described as a “Malacañang rah-rah boy” had approached him to ask that he quit as chief defense counsel in Corona’s impeachment trial.

But what peeved the INC hierarchy, the source said, was Cuevas’ disclosure that the move to get him to withdraw was tied up with the case of ousted National Bureau of Investigation Director Magtanggol Gatdula.

Cuevas said the Malacañang emissary had told him Gatdula would be spared of any criminal charge if Cuevas quit the Corona defense team.

Both Cuevas and Gatdula are members of the INC. A justice department panel has recommended the filing of criminal charges against Gatdula for his alleged involvement in the kidnapping of an undocumented Japanese woman.

Inquirer story correct
“Ka Apin (a reference to Cuevas) was called to the INC headquarters in Quezon City right after the story came out in the Inquirer,” said the source, who sought anonymity for fear of punitive action from his religious group. “He was given a dressing down because he mentioned Gatdula in the interview.”

“Your story is correct,” the source added, referring to the Inquirer article.
The source also said that Cuevas, 83, would not be disciplined despite his blooper given his advanced age.

The source said the dressing down took place before Cuevas appeared at the Senate on Monday and that the INC was upset Cuevas had dragged the organization’s name in the interview with the Inquirer.

“A lay member should not talk about or make references to the INC as an institution. Only the ministers [can], and (Cuevas) is not even one,” the source said.

‘Lapse in judgment’
The source said that after Cuevas was reprimanded (pinagalitan), “Ka Apin had to do an about face at the risk of losing his credibility.”

“Had Ka Apin limited himself to the discussion of pressure from Malacañang, there wouldn’t have been any problem. But the thing was that he had to mention the quid pro quo (palit-ulo) about Gatdula.”

“The mention of Ka Tanggol’s (a reference to Gatdula) name was considered a lapse in judgment on the part of Ka Apin,” the source added. “The INC was displeased so there was extreme pressure to deny.”

Message to Palace
The INC source would not confirm whether Gatdula’s appointment as NBI top honcho had been a favor extended to the organization.

However, the source said the choice of Abraham Espejo, a prominent INC member, as Gatdula’s lawyer was supposed to “send a message to Malacañang” to take it easy with the sacked director.

Espejo is the dean of the New Era University College of Law, the source said. “Why would they send in the dean if the hierarchy is treating Gatdula’s situation as an ordinary case?” the source said.

A Malacañang official said the ball was now in Cuevas’ court following the Inquirer’s release of the transcript and audio of its interview with Cuevas, in which the latter said a Palace emissary had tried to prod him into quitting as Corona’s chief lawyer.

“At this point, it will be up to Justice Cuevas to support his (denial) and, until such time, we will defer comment,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte told reporters.

Incredulous Leila
Palace officials have denied Cuevas’ allegation and challenged him to identify the “emissary” who approached him. They also said it was not the habit of Malacañang to pressure anyone.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima rejected Cuevas’ claim that someone from Malacañang tried to pressure him into quitting the Corona defense panel.

“When the report came out, I did not believe it. I seriously doubt that it was true, that somebody (from Malacañang) was talking to him,” De Lima told reporters.
“In the case of NBI Director Gatdula, I was the only one that the President was talking to, although there were (times) that the Executive Secretary joined the discussion, so there’s no such thing,” De Lima said.

De Lima added: “Some sectors are again fabricating stories and putting all sorts of slants in the issue.”  With reports from Christine O. Avendaño and Jerome Aning

Chief Justice Impeachment Trial

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