April 16, 2012
News report says that Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago is “poised to move to cite for contempt public opinion poll makers Pulse Asia and the Social Weather Station for conducting their March surveys asking respondents to give their take on the guilt or innocence of the accused in the ongoing impeachment trial.”
“The accused,” the report continues, “as one would know, is no less than the sitting Chief Justice of the Philippines. Pulse Asia would have a guilty verdict at 47%, and SWS, at a whopping 73%.”
But Miriam was not alone in trying to silence the people’s “court of public opinion.” Several groups have also called for the banning of surveys regarding the impeachment trial of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona, which has been suspended until May 7 in observance of Lent.
Critics of the surveys – particularly the supporters of Corona – are concerned that the survey results are sub judice, which means that they could influence the decision of the 23 senator-judges. But many are of the opinion that the impeachment trial is not a judicial process where the sub judice rule applies but a process for seeking the truth to determine whether an impeached public official has indeed betrayed the office that he was entrusted with. And if found guilty of “betrayal of public trust,” he should be summarily removed from the office he betrayed.
Since the prosecution panel consists of elected members of the House and the jury consists of elected senators sitting as senator-judges, the impeachment trial is a “people’s court.” As such, the trial is open to the public and that the people can participate by expressing their views in public as the trial progresses. And if at any point the people were convinced that the trial was being manipulated by the prosecutors or senator-judges in a way that would change the outcome of the trial, then the people have the right to resort to “people power” just like they did during the impeachment trial of then President Joseph “Erap” Estrada.
Erap’s impeachment trial
On January 16, 2001, eleven senator-judges – hence known as “Craven Eleven” – voted to suppress the opening of the controversial “second envelope,” which allegedly contained incriminating evidence against Erap for the simple reason that it was not part of the impeachment complaint. The House prosecutors – led by then Rep. Joker Arroyo – walked out of the Senate impeachment court in protest over the razor-thin 11-10 vote. Pandemonium followed and on January 20, Erap was ousted by a “people power” orchestrated by supporters of then Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
The mistake made by the “Craven Eleven” haunted the impeachment trial of Corona. The Presiding Judge, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, is aware of it and so did Miriam. After all they were part of the “Craven Eleven.”
Suppression of evidence
Enrile learned from that mistake and he tried very hard not to suppress evidence. In instances where he could rule from the chair, he allowed evidence to be admitted. However, there were several times when evidence was suppressed by the collective decision of the senator-judges.
And this brings to the people’s consciousness the nagging question: Why is evidence being suppressed? Consider the following: Why were Corona’s wife Cristina and other members of his family not allowed to testify? Why did the senator-judges junk Paragraph 2.4 – ill-gotten wealth – from the articles of impeachment? Why did the Supreme Court issue a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) to suppress the secret dollar accounts of Corona? Why did the Supreme Court prohibit its employees from testifying in the impeachment trial? Why did the defense panel move to suppress Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s testimony? Why did the senator-judges object to inviting Supreme Court Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno to testify?
Now, what do you think the people would conclude when the evidence is suppressed? Here’s how a rational human mind works: If the evidence would prove the innocence of the accused, why suppress the evidence? But if the evidence would establish the guilt of the accused, then suppressing the evidence would protect the accused.
In my article, “The people have spoken: ‘Guilty’ ” (April 6, 2012), I wrote: “And in a display of naiveté, Supreme Court administrator and spokesperson Jose Midas Marquez said that the survey was premature for anybody to conduct opinion polls because the impeachment trial was ongoing. ‘We don’t know the basis of the respondents in saying that (the Chief Justice) is guilty or innocent. The defense isn’t through yet,’ he said. Well, Mr. Marquez, it’s all about perception. And in politics, perception is reality — you are what you’re perceived to be.”
By suppressing the evidence, the people’s perception that Corona is guilty became reality. Yes, it’s 2001 all over again. When the “Craven 11” suppressed the admission of the “second envelope” as evidence, the people perceived that the “second envelope” contained evidence that would prove Erap’s guilt. That perception became reality and it triggered a chain of events that propelled the country back to one of the darkest – if not the darkest – periods of its history: the Marcos years.
For the next nine and a half years, Gloria established a corrupt regime that, according to some observers, surpassed the Marcos dictatorship. She appointed retired corrupt generals to key government positions. And she stacked the Supreme Court with loyal justices who would be her “last line of defense” should there come a time when she has to face justice just like her predecessor, Erap Estrada. And to make sure that the Chief Justice would be someone whose loyalty is beyond question, she appointed Corona – her former chief of staff — to that position in spite of the ban on “midnight appointments” before the presidential election in May 2010.
Time for judgment
When the impeachment trial resumes on May 7 and the defense panel completes the presentation of evidence, the senator-judges would be faced with a dilemma. With the results of the surveys overwhelmingly in favor of convicting Corona, they would have difficulty in defending a vote for his acquittal. Simply saying that the prosecution panel did not do a good job in presenting evidence would not cut it. The prosecutors tried any which way they could to present evidence but the senator-judges suppressed them at the behest of the defense panel.
But the suppressed evidence did not escape the scrutiny of the people. The people’s court of public opinion has been in full session 24/7 without any let-up. The people debated all the evidence in the traditional media as well as the social media. And they have spoken: “Guilty!”
It is expected that the impeachment trial would end by June. The prosecution needs 16 votes to convict Corona while Corona needs eight votes for his acquittal. Are there eight senator-judges who could explain to the people – the voters — who voted them into office why they would acquit Corona?
But at the end of the day, the senator-judges have to listen to the pulse of the people. (PerryDiaz@gmail.com)