Journalist caught up in impeachment drama

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 February, 2012, 12:00am


Raissa Robles, the South China Morning Post's veteran Manila correspondent, has found herself at the centre of an online whispering campaign suggesting she gave bank account information relating to Philippines Chief Justice Renato Corona to prosecutors attempting to impeach him.

Robles is vigorously denying the allegations through her own blog as well as via statements to the Post, local newspapers and a major TV network.

While 'amused' by some of the depictions of her, she said she fears she could be the victim of a smear campaign that, at worst, might incite supporters of the embattled Corona to violence.

'It is a very tense time and the chief justice is fighting for his political life. I only hope some of his supporters are not tempted by violence,' Robles said.

'There is no truth to the allegations whatsoever,' she said, adding that she had never received documents from bank employees, or passed on any bank documents. 'I fear it's a smear campaign because they can't discredit my stories ... I've always verified my stories, and I'm always fair.'

Robles' stories have included a World Bank report into the misuse of a loan to enhance the 'institutional integrity' of the Philippine Supreme Court - an objective described by Corona as a 'huge lie'. She also investigated Corona's cheap purchase of a luxury 3,000 sq ft apartment in Manila's The Fort complex, home to some of the country's wealthiest businessmen.

Her profile of Corona in the Sunday Morning Post last month quoted his concerns about the wider political climate as he prepared for trial. Corona, a former chief of staff to former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, was one of her last appointments when he became chief justice. Just a month before his impeachment on December 12, his court ruled against the maternal clan of the current president, Benigno Aquino, in awarding land to farm workers on the family hacienda.

'The problem with some people... is that they think that I am a thief like them,' Robles quoted Corona as saying.

Now she stands accused of being 'the little lady' who illegally passed bank account files from a bank manager to a prosecutor investigating Corona. The 'little lady' description was coined by the prosecutor, congressman Rey Umali.

'Whoever this 'little lady' is, it is not me... I'm really amused by these blogs and tweets that have described me as a 'Girl Friday' of a sitting magistrate who is at odds with Corona or that I'm merely 'moonlighting' as a journalist. My record stands for itself.'

Robles has written for the Post since 1996 and is proud of her record of asking tough questions of the country's leaders without fear or favour. In 2002, she sparked a brief controversy when, ? propos of rumours the president was in a loveless marriage, she asked Arroyo whether she still had 'time for sex' with her husband. Arroyo answered 'plenty'. Last year she asked Aquino about reports he was playing video games the night a sacked policeman shot and killed eight Hongkongers on a tour bus in Manila. Aquino issued a denial.

As a reporter in the Philippines since 1982, she has worked for local newspapers and contributed to international outlets including The Times, the BBC and Voice of America.

Corona is the third-highest official to be impeached in the Philippines, after former president Joseph Estrada in 2000 and ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez last year. Prosecutors have this week been barred from examining his foreign currency accounts, which they claim contain ill-gotten wealth. The senate endorsed a high court temporary restraining order issued on Friday.