POSTSCRIPT / December 7, 2000 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Erap may get belated Xmas gift of acquittal?

PRESIDENT Estrada is wishing aloud for a Christmas gift of acquittal in the impeachment trial that opens today in the Senate.

By coincidence, Senate President Aquilino Pimentel, one of the judges in the historic trial, has been saying all along that the hearing may be over before the end of the month.

They apparently know something that we the people do not know.

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WHAT we know is that the opposition fell into a trap when they rushed the four impeachment charges and entered the highly politicized process of impeachment that is loaded in favor of the President.

But it’s too late in the day to back out. Malacañang has closed the doors for other options, such as resignation, by brainwashing the public that impeachment is the only constitutional process for removing a president in midstream.

Having stampeded the opposition into putting all its eggs in the impeachment basket, Palace propagandists are now busy promoting the Senate trial as legal, fair and binding — so when the acquittal verdict is handed down as programmed, it will be generally accepted.

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IN hindsight, we think that Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago had numerical basis when she predicted last month that President Estrada would be acquitted if the senator-judges were to cast their votes that day she made the headcount.

Until now, her pro-Erap scoreboard has not changed substantially. From where we sit, we see only 10 senators (from an initial eight or nine) who are likely to hand down a guilty verdict. Ten is still way off the 16 or 15 votes needed for conviction.

The magic number (15 or 16) depends on the interpretation of what is a “two-thirds vote of all the members of the Senate” provided in the Constitution.

We think it is unlikely that as many as six more Erap-friendly senators will turn against the President during the speedy trial where the accused is presumed innocent until proved otherwise.

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DON’T bank on pro-Erap senators being so disturbed that they would cast a so-called Conscience Vote, meaning a vote for conviction. This could happen only if they see the Erap dike crumbling and they sense a need to flee to higher political ground.

The problem is that the stubborn Erap wall is not crumbling. Not yet, anyway, thanks to the pervasive propaganda that sees to it that the desired public mood is created, or foisted, at a certain point in the Palace timetable.

To illustrate, on the eve of the trial, Malacañang trotted out yesterday supposed poll survey data showing – naturally – that President Estrada’s rating has gone up dramatically while those of his detractors have plunged.

As a study of the milestones along Mr. Estrada’s route shows, he always has the desired poll survey results at the right time that he needs them. One would think these expensive surveys are part of a brainwashing process.

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WE are not that optimistic about pro-Erap senators suddenly having a change of heart during the trial. We see no reason why these denizens of the political jungle would change their stripes.

Their press releases about approaching the trial with open minds, of voting according to their conscience, et cetera… are nice to hear on radio or read in the morning papers, but it would be the height of naiveté to give value to saliva.

Our senators have seen much of the evidence during the recent joint hearings of the Blue Ribbon and the justice committees. They have formed their opinion, more or less. The alignment of forces during those hearings is not likely to change during the trial.

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THERE could be one or two senators crossing to the other side, but to expect five or six pro-Erap or “neutral” judges to flip and vote for conviction is too much of a stampede to expect when the administration enjoys a clear superiority of logistics.

While the sky is virtually the limit on the side of the Pasig, the House prosecution team has to scrounge around for funds and beg for a budget. Unlike the de campanilla lawyers of Mr. Estrada, the prosecutors are serving pro bono.

While millions in public funds are splurged on pro-Erap rallies, opposition marches have to rely on donations and the walk-in participation of concerned citizens who simply want to march against the impeached President.

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THAT’S one reason why the Estrada camp is forcing the opposition to agree to a short, swift hearing, preferably one that would end in time for the tailend of the Christmas gift-giving middle of January.

The President’s lawyers are acting like they can live with the quantum of evidence, or lack of it, existing at this point. A rush trial and an early stipulation would help preclude the discovery of additional evidence.

We won’t be surprised if some of the evidence presented earlier to the Senate Blue Ribbon and justice committees have been tampered with, or that some of the key witnesses have been suborned.

Even that explosive package of new documents allegedly organized by public relations practitioner Buddy Dacer from data collected from a presidential crony has been reportedly defused with his disappearance.

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PARDON our saying it, but at this point, we think only a miracle could turn the tide for a conviction of President Estrada during the cramped trial schedule.

We’re not an authority on miracles, so we don’t know if street marches, angry placards and prayer rallies could change the hearts of at least six more pro-Erap senators sitting in judgment.

We repeat that impeachment is largely a numbers game, and the numbers appear to be in favor of President Estrada.

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WE’VE run out of space to report the results of the survey among Postscript readers on the question: Is President Estrada leading the nation (1) Forward, (2) Backward, (3) Sideward, (4) Upward or (5)Downward? Or (6) NOTA, or None Of The Above?

So we’re postponing to either this Sunday or next Tuesday our reporting on the survey results. Meanwhile, those who want to have their votes included may still send them to Postscript.

Aside from your vote, please give your (a) very brief explanation, plus your personal circumstances of (b) age, (c) sex and (d) location. Kindly use your original email address issued by your Internet Service Provider (ISP). We may disregard responses sent via secondary addresses.

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UNLIKE in previous Postscript surveys, the participation of readers abroad surpassed that of those in the country. Readers from the United States, Asia and Canada (in descending order) comprised 54 percent, compared to the 41 percent of respondents in the country.

The male (78 percent) outnumbered the female respondents (22 percent). The 36-40-year-old age bracket had the most number of respondents (26 percent), followed by the 26-30, 31-35 and 56-60 age brackets (each at 16 percent).

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SAMPLES of the early survey respondents:

Rodolfo Fermin, Denver, Colorado: Estrada is not leading the nation at all. He is in position to enrich himself, his family, his mistresses and his cronies, period!

Matt Zobian, psu.edu address: Erap is leading the Philippines backward, because he took the Philippines off the path of economic and political freedom. No people can prosper in such conditions, and he is foolish for doing so.

Joey Legarda, Makati: He is using the divide and rule style. He is acting like he has an axe to grind against society and he is making maximum use of the “masa.” Uniting or finding solutions of resolving societies problems is completely out of the equation.

Fluna, Canada: I do not think Mr. Estrada is leading the nation anywhere. He is simply misleading us.

Doug G. Arias, Las Vegas, Nevada: Erap is not even “leading” the nation. He is certainly dragging her downward. (And as far as Mr. Raffy Avilla’s reaction to your comparison, he should probably be the one to go back to class because you weren’t referring to “automatic cruise control” but plain control of cruising speed by one’s foot on the accelerator.)

Tony Reyes, Everett, Washington: My answer to your question is None Of The Above, because he is not a leader, does not know how to lead and has no vision for the country.

Angel N. Jaurigue, Novaliches, Quezon City: He trying to lead and move our country forward. He is not just sitting down and just letting all these economic and political problems pass by without doing anything. The problem is those people who just want him out and want to take over for their own sake instead of helping him and help our country move forward.

Louie Buenaventura, St. Paul College, Quezon City: I strongly believe that President Estrada is leading us downward, in fact, very fast downward! His close friend, Bubby Dacer and driver Emmanuel Corbito are still mysteriously missing. This is a prelude to more civil disturbances and disobediences created by the current opposition similar to the events after Aug. 21, 1983. With all these turbulent social and political events, the Philippines is becoming more of that country during the period 1983-1986.

More responses next time.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 7, 2000)

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