There are truths, there are lies, and there are statistics.
Pulse Asia released its public survey conducted between Feb. 26 and March 9 on the Impeachment (by this time the Prosecution had finished its presentation and the Defense had still to start theirs).
- The Impeachment ranked highest in public awareness. The troubles of GMA scored second, the earthquake in the south third, Iggy Arroyo’s death sixth, and rising gas prices last.
- 84% of the respondents followed the proceedings but 56% know little of the issues.
- 69% believe the Senators are fair.
- 47% believe the CJ is guilty, 5% think him innocent, with the balance of 48% unsure.
- 58% will accept whatever is the Senate’s verdict.
- The President has a popularity rating of 70%, the CJ 14%.
The results pretty much confirm what we would expect namely:
1. People have a short memory and are influenced by current media. Economic or political issues, however substantive, have a limited shelf life. That, in the public mind, Iggy Arroyo’s death takes precedence over the rising cost of living confirms this.
2. People are interested in the trial but cannot follow its technicalities. It is like watching a game where they do not know the rules. So they are persuaded by issues they understand like the CJ’s seemingly unexplained wealth (e.g. the dollar accounts) and personal character (in the Basa-Guidote case) rather than improper SALN accounting.
3. The layman senses the fight is between Corona and P-Noy and he has chosen, seemingly on instinct. Thus, 47% believe the CJ guilty even if 56% know little of what is happening. Again, it is no coincidence the President is 6 times more popular than the CJ and 9 times more Filipinos believe the latter guilty than not. The two are connected. The message for the Defense: Don’t frame the impeachment as a contest between a righteous man (the CJ)) and a closet dictator (the other guy), of good versus evil. Instead keep the trial technical, in the courtroom and out of the public domain.
4. The public is satisfied the Senate will take care of business and, unlike in the Erap impeachment, will not do an EDSA III whatever the outcome. This means the Senators, especially those seeking re-election next year, have to worry less about public opinion than generally believed; allowing them to vote according to their conscience, their political affiliation, their sponsors or whatever else turns them on.
5. Among those who have an opinion (47% guilty, 5% innocent), almost 90% believe the CJ is guilty. This could change once the Defense gets going. However, the margin is large and may be difficult to overturn unless the Defense comes up with something compelling. So far its performance has been unremarkable:
- In the testimony of Rep. Tiangco, it presented recycled goods or at least ones whose expiry date has passed.
-In addressing Article 2 (the SALNs), it not so much professed the CJ’s innocence as claimed other Government officials are equally guilty of sloppy accounting. It is reminding the Judges that people in glass houses should not throw stones. Feeling alluded to and after checking their own SALNs, the Senators warned the Defense of the irrelevance of this position.
(This defense of “not guilty by association” is novel. On this basis, the Ampatuans can now profess innocence because salvaging one’s political opponents is a Philippine way of life.)
Are there enough Senators to acquit the CJ?
Here is the count: There are 2 Senators certain to acquit (Arroyo, Marcos) and 1 probably leaning to do so (Villar). The CJ needs 5 more among the following to put him over the top: Enrile, Honasan, Lapid, Legarda, Revilla, Santiago, Sotto. The latter, especially the two lawyers in the group, may apply a high standard to impeach, messy SALNs is not enough.
This leaves undisclosed wealth and its extensions (dollar accounts, etc.) as the main actionable item. It is the elephant in the room, the topic that has been technically banned from the scene but whose shadow looms large over the proceedings. The Senators need to address the issue whatever the technicalities. The nation wants an answer and is not interested in the fine print.
Right now the trial’s outcome is too close to call. The margin of victory or defeat is also crucial. Even if Corona gets acquitted, unless he can get at a double-digit vote in his favor he may be a lame duck Chief Justice.