Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago on Sunday warned of efforts to win over senator-judges during the long Lenten break from the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Santiago, who will join the International Criminal Court after the trial, said the midterm elections next year would be a factor in deciding the Corona case, especially among senators seeking reelection.
“Absolutely. I’m sure it’s going to take place,” she said in a radio interview with dzBB when asked about the possibility of senators being approached (“gapangan”) during the six-week break.
“Definitely, there will be an effort to sabotage the trial by approaching each person, each senator-judge and offering him some inducements,” she added.
Despite the public focus on the impeachment proceedings, she said in Filipino, “What’s being considered in the impeachment trial is the election in 2013.”
Santiago said an inducement from the Aquino administration might go like this: “If you vote in favor of impeachment, you will likely end up on the ticket of the administration. Think about it. We have an organization. We have money. We all know what the advantages of the administration are.”
Santiago said an offer could also come from the other side, which she referred to as “NGOs” (nongovernment organizations) that were not in favor of convicting the Chief Justice. She said some of these groups could also command a significant number of votes.
Asked if there might also be a change in the Senate presidency, Santiago laughed, saying the matter was “really ticklish.”
“The devil never sleeps,” she said. “Since the impeachment trial is nearing completion, perhaps there are those who have an ambition, thinking that if I get the result that the person talking with me wants, perhaps I could be the Senate President.”
“We cannot avoid that. That’s really how politicians think.”
Santiago said a number of her colleagues would be “gambling, in effect,” on their impeachment vote in relation to the upcoming elections.
“You cannot take away the fact that there are political factors in deciding the ultimate decision of the impeachment court,” she said. “Certainly, the 2013 elections will be a big factor.”
Still, she said there are a “few” senators, like her, who will decide the fate of Corona purely based on the law.
She said this group would just “hope that the public will understand that we are only trying to apply the law without any other consideration involved.”
Another factor affecting the trial, which will resume on May 7, is the release of surveys, the latest of which was the Pulse Asia survey, which claimed that 47 percent of 1,200 respondents believed that Corona was guilty.
Santiago described the survey as “one half,” pointing out that it was conducted only with the prosecution having presented its case.
In the future, she said, the Senate should come up with a rule against the publication of surveys during impeachment trials.
“That is contemptuous. That is an attempt to obstruct justice or to degrade justice,” she said of the Pulse Asia survey. “There is no justice there.”
“In effect,” she said the survey showed that 53 percent of the respondents said, “No, we have to listen to the defense (first).”
Santiago also blasted the subsequent Pulse Asia survey showing that Corona got the lowest approval rating of 14 percent, among President Benigno Aquino III, Vice President Jejomar Binay, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte.
Binay topped the survey at 84 percent, followed by Enrile with 71 percent. Mr. Aquino came in third with 70 percent.
Attempt to manipulate
Santiago questioned the release—and sequence—of two results released from that one Pulse Asia survey. She said the first one claimed that nearly half of the respondents were convinced that Corona was guilty, the second one showed he had a low approval rating.
“That was a clear effort to manipulate the results of the impeachment trial,” she said.
Santiago noted that Pulse Asia did not explain that a Chief Justice, not necessarily Corona, did not normally fare well in surveys “because he is not political.”
“That is the reason. In fact, he should not be included there,” she said. “What does the public know about what they do in the Supreme Court since it’s a highly confidential process when you decide and research a case.”
“I respect the observations of Senator Santiago, but we still trust the independence and integrity of each of the senator-judges,” a defense lawyer, Tranquil Salvador III, said in a mobile phone interview.
“I personally believe that they will not be persuaded. There may be efforts to convince them, but I believe in their love of country,” Salvador said.
He said the defense panel was carefully “taking note” of the statements and observations of the senators “because we know the reality that this is a political exercise.”
“So we’re making sure that our case is intact. We will rely on the credibility and integrity of our senator-judges,” he said.
Salvador also agreed with Santiago’s view that Corona or any other justices of the Supreme Court should not be included in surveys along with other public officials.
“To my mind, that is a very good observation. First and foremost, this is a subject of a pending case and therefore, his approval rating should not have been touched,” he said. “Second, any resolution or judgment of the court should not be based on popularity, but on the merits of the case.”
Salvador also questioned the timing of the release of the Pulse Asia survey.
“It seems that somebody wants these issues be discussed in public … to condition the mind of the people during this long break,” he said. With a report from Marlon Ramos
Originally posted: 7:29 pm | Sunday, March 25th, 2012