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(UPDATED - 9:34 p.m.) MANILA, Philippines -- President Benigno Aquino III met with Iglesia Ni Cristo executive minister Eduardo Manalo on Monday to explain why the impeachment trial against Chief Justice Renato Corona is necessary.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said it was Aquino who requested for an audience with the INC leader at the religious group's headquarters on Commonwealth Ave. in Quezon City.
"They discussed a slew of topics. The impeachment was discussed because it is one of the burning issues of the day," Lacierda said.
"President Aquino explained that the reason for the impeachment is that it is part of his reform agenda," the Palace official added.
Lacierda said there was nothing suspect in the timing of the "private" meeting, which he said was aimed to touch base with Aquino supporters.
The presidential spokesman said the audience with Manalo was being scheduled as early as Holy Week, but it was only today that the INC leader was able to meet the President.
Asked how the President was after the meeting, Lacierda said the President was "okay."" He did not elaborate.
"This has nothing to do with news reports of alleged INC lobbying (for the Chief Justice)...It is unfortunate that the meeting was only scheduled today. And it is unfortunate that there was news over the weekend (on the alleged INC lobbying)," he said.
Asked to describe Palace relations with INC, Lacierda said it was "warm."
The six million-strong religious group is believed to be for Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona, whose main legal counsel is former Justice and top-ranking INC member Serafin Cuevas.
Last Feb. 28, midway through the impeachment trial, INC held a prayer rally at the Luneta Grandstand, attracting hundreds of thousands of members in many believe is a show of the group's political force.
Meanwhile, lawyer Tranquil Salvador, a member of Corona's defense team doubts that lead defense counsel Serafin Cueva's membership in the INC will merit the institution's full support to the impeached chief justice.
“I don’t think that the mere fact of his religious affiliation, will amount to an immediate full support of the institution as respectful and as big as the INC institution,” Salvador said, adding that his team had "no personal knowledge" about the reprt on INC's lobbyying for Corona.
The defense team is expecting that the Senate impeachment court will decide on the merit of Corona's case and not on some political considerations like the reported INC lobby, according to Salvador.
For her part, lawyer Karen Jimeno, another member of the defense, said that her group "cannot speak in behalf of INC."
"obviously, sila naman 'yon eh. Wala naman kinalaman ang defense dito [Obviously, it's them. The defense has nothing to do with it],” she said.