MANILA, Philippines – House Justice Committee chairman Niel Tupas Jr. claimed the influential Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) has backed Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez.
Tupas said the INC has been calling on lawmakers to vote down the impeachment complaint pending before the House of Representatives plenary.
“[Liberal Party] members and even non-LP members received phone calls from a high ranking official of INC to kill the impeachment against Ombudsman Gutierrez,” he claimed.
Tupas refused to name the INC official.
Two other congressmen confirmed getting phone calls from the INC, but on the condition of anonymity.
Tupas and House Speaker Sonny Belmonte meantime assured lawmakers that their priority development assistance funds (PDAF) will not be withheld regardless of how they will vote on the impeachment.
Tupas said, “I think the policy of a minimum PDAF applying to all is still in effect since we are not aware of a contrary directive.”
Belmonte, for his part, said “definitely the PDAF will not be affected by how one votes.”
The PDAF has allegedly been used by the Executive, which some call a carrot-and-stick approach, to make sure allies in the legislature toe its line.
A text message purportedly blackmailing lawmakers into supporting the impeachment also circulated among lawmakers over the weekend.
The text message is being attributed to Cavite Rep. Joseph Emilio Aguinaldo Abaya, chairman of the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee, which oversees budgeting and releases of funding.
The text reads: “Frm Cong. Abaya-Favor kindly disseminate to all reps – LP and non-LPs. Thisshud b made clear to all. Those who will vote no or absent/abstain on impeachment will get 0 as in zero. At least walang sisihan that there was no forewarning….”
Upon receipt of the text message, ABS-CBN forwarded it to Abaya, Majority Leader Boyet Gonzales, Justice Committee Chair Niel Tupas Jr. and House Speaker Sonny Belmonte for validation and comment.
Gonzales and Tupas sent separate messages denying it for Abaya.
Tupas said, “I don’t think so. No such thing.”
Gonzales said, “I just talked to Jun abaya. He denies it. It maybe a disinformation campaign to muddle the impeachment process.”
Abaya merely said, “intrigue.”