Friday, March 2, 2012

Corona and the Numbers Game (by Emmanuel Hizon)

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Photo by Matikas Santos/ photo.
Apologists of impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona asserted that they are not only winning the battle in the impeachment court but also the one that is being waged in the streets. This assertion stemmed from an alleged 7,000-strong pro-Corona mobilization that was held not long ago in front of the Supreme Court, and of late, a mammoth evangelical rally held at Luneta, which they said outnumbered all previous anti-Corona mobilizations organized by the different anti-corruption groups.

Minority action, one-dimensional

At first glance, the “big” pro-Corona rally held last February 8, 2012 in Padre Faura, which defenders of the chief justice boast and brand as the "true voice" of the public is somewhat impressive. But in retrospect, one can see that the said event is the action of a minority. Of course, the action of a minority is not necessarily wrong, that is not the intention of this piece. Rather, it wants to deconstruct the perception that is being peddled by Corona's spin masters that they are winning the numbers game in the streets.

Truth is, it was a minority action because many of the participants reportedly came from a single group--the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC)--a politically influential religious organization renowned for its bloc voting during elections. Although the group categorically stated that it was not behind the pro-Corona rally in front of the high court, different media people who covered the event attested that majority of those that participated were indeed members of the religious group.

As a result, the thousands-strong rally in support of Corona was exposed as politically one-dimensional. At a time when Corona desperately needed political support that is dynamic and diverse, the solidarity action lacked the multisectoral character present in many of our popular actions such as those that were mounted against the previous Arroyo administration.

It was also desperate in character as the mass action rendered support to a very unpopular chief justice who once said that the masses who participated in EDSA 3 in support of deposed President Ejercito Estrada were “walang mga ngipin,” “walang salawal” and “mababaho” in his defense of his political patron, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Ironically, majority of those that participated in the pro-Corona rally in Manila were also participants of EDSA 3.

In fact, according to the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), three of the four protesters killed in the Edsa 3 siege of Malacanang on May Day eve of 2001 were members of the INC. For the chief justice to acquire the support of the very people he once mocked and despised is not only the height of hypocrisy, it also concretely demonstrated the depths of his desperation.

Broad and Popular

The same cannot be said of those who are asking for the removal of Corona. The series of protest actions organized against Corona were more multisectoral and national in character. The strong presence of groups such as Akbayan Party, Citizens’s Battle Against Corruption (CIBAC), Anak Mindanao (AMIN), Reform ARMM Now (RAN), Black and White Movement, People Power Volunteers for Reform (PPVR), the Flight Attendants and Stewards Association of the Philippines (FASAP), Student Council Alliance of the Philippines (SCAP), among others showed that workers, farmers, informal settlers, Muslim communities, sections of the middle class, political parties and social movements support the call for the removal of Corona from office.

An anti-Marcos, anti-Corona pic circulating in Facebook
The public statements issued by the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines (AMRSP), Catholic Educators’ Association of the Philippines (CEAP) and the Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan (SLB-Ateneo) all demanding the opening of Corona’s dollar accounts further advanced the proposition that the anti-Corona call is relatively more popular and broad.

Bongbong Marcos and Corona (by Raissa Robles).
The latest SWS survey also supports this claim. The survey, conducted last December 3-7, 2011, showed that net satisfaction for Corona has dipped from 0 in the past 2 quarterly surveys to -14 in the past month. The result prompted the survey outfit  to say that Corona is the most unpopular of all Philippine Chief Justices of the past 25 years.

Likewise, a study made by pollster Pedro “Junie” Laylo Jr. echoed a similar sentiment from the public. While the report said that 57% of the people are undecided because they do not yet know enough about the trial, it also said that 17% want Corona removed, while only 5% think he should be absolved and 2% “definitely want him absolved.”

Recently, a February survey conducted at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City showed that 74 percent of students surveyed said Corona no longer enjoys their trust and is unfit to remain on the high court.

Clearly, those that have a clear opinion on the matter are against Corona.

Impeachment process as a tool to seek the truth

But the question remains, if the call to remove Corona from office is more popular and has a broader mandate, then why is this not manifested in the streets?

I offer some possible answers. First, the public, despite the opinions already formulated and floated by different pundits and by media, is giving Corona the right to due process. It is very supportive of the impeachment trial proceedings and wants a clear conviction resulting from functional democratic institutions.

Second, the people are also using the impeachment proceedings as a tool to know the entire truth behind the numerous and colossal transgressions committed by the Arroyo regime. The truth that was denied to them with the resignation of former Ombudsman Merciditas Gutierrez, they are now demanding from the impeachment trial. Thus, despite the attempts of Corona’s legal defense to obstruct the presentation of evidence that will point Corona and Arroyo to their crimes, the impeachment court remains a good venue to seek the truth.

Functional institutions, street parliamentarism

But having said that, it doesn’t mean that the people should abandon its right to organize, assemble and express their opinion in the streets as advocated by dogmatic adherents of the "rule of law." The right to have functional and democratic institutions tasked to exact justice in behalf of the people doesn’t mean the people should surrender their vigilance and activism to the “cold neutrality” of our institutions.

From Inquirer file photo.
On the contrary, for institutions to function effectively, they must be buttressed by the vigilance of an active citizenry. Street parliamentarianism doesn’t undermine the rule of law and our institutions; rather, it strengthens and further democratizes it. Institutions functioning without the people are like judgments made exclusively in ivory towers. At the outset, the view from the tower might be better than that from the base, but nothing beats having your ears on the ground.

As such, as the impeachment trial proceedings continue, let the people freely organize and express themselves using all available platforms including the “parliament of the streets" whether they are for or against Corona. But as the Corona impeachment trial spills over and rages in the streets, let us practice discernment. We have the responsibility of distinguishing what is right from wrong. It does not suffice that the public see and hear the widest spectrum of opinions, they deserve the truth. We may argue that our views are shared by the majority but it does not necessarily guarantee that they are the truth.

Democratic and popular action vs. mob rule

And so Corona and his defenders justify the righteousness of their position on the assumption that “many” is synonymous with “moral”. They argue that the "huge crowds" they can summon vindicate Corona. But there is a difference between a multitude of people taking a stand and a mob of kibitzers.

Although we cannot appraise the morality of our views based on the number of people who share it, it is still the task of a responsible public to determine which side enjoys the support of the majority. It is the duty of every discerning individual to know which political actions are popular and broad and which are superficial and merely the expression of a minority. A thousand-strong rally in support of Corona coming exclusively from a single group is definitely not equal to a thousand-strong rally composed of different sectors, social forces and peoples’ organizations calling for his conviction.

This is the fine line that separated the first people power uprising from the motley group of Marcos loyalists who cheered as their dictator idol appeared in the Malacanang balcony during the last days of his dictatorship, an event mimicked by Corona and his wife as they waved to their "supporters" from the Supreme Court balcony. This is also what separated the broad and massive anti-Arroyo rally that was brutally dispersed in February 2006 when the government declared a national state of emergency from the pro-Arroyo "hakot crowd" mobilized by the now defunct Office of External Affairs. This is what distinguishes democratic and popular political action from mob rule.

Unfortunately, the current mass actions in support of Corona fall under the latter category. ###

Corona and the Numbers Game
By Emmanuel Hizon

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redpenredtemper said...

hmmmmm... what can i say? it's more fun in the philippines. anyway, we are giving those senator judges chance to showcase their lawyerly skills. and once again refresh our memory of what happened during the estrada impeachment. but life moves on... and some things never change... and whose next on the impeachment hot seat? well see... well see...

James Matthew Miraflor said...

Let's see redpenredtemper

It is unfortunate that removing corrupt officials, especially those at the top, are so difficult and cumbersome in the Philippines. The process should be shortened.