Whose cause gained from the Erap 'guilty or not guilty' ad?
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2007-07-12
A full page ad that came out last July 4 in the STAR and some papers read: "Erap: Guilty or not guilty. Kailangan bang magkagulo (Is trouble necessary)?"

Frankly, it first struck me as perhaps the handiwork of some unduly distraught civil society group who happens to be so convinced that trouble would follow as soon as a verdict is announced. Or maybe, some do-gooder organization out there is trying to demonstrate concern and caring for public safety, peace and order and the rule or law.

I did not see the need for such an ad. From where I sit, wrecking another chair, whatever the verdict on the plunder case of former President Joseph "Erap" Estrada, it can only stir the usual public debate, nothing more. I think that I have had enough experience in watching political developments to be able to say this with certainty.

How many out there will be willing to risk life, limb and fortune to fight and die for Joseph "Erap" Estrada? It is one thing to sympathize with Estrada the jailbird or vote for the candidates he endorses. But to suggest that millions, or nay, even just thousands of people are willing to confront the State's armed and police forces over a guilty verdict for Estrada is stretching the limits of the imagination too far.

Before the ad came out, no one had really challenged the fairness of the Sandiganbayan in handling the Estrada plunder case. Up to that day, the public had generally given the Sandiganbayan the benefit of the doubt that Estrada will get a fair trial and verdict.

But after the ad came out, the Estrada camp went to town to claim that a guilty verdict has been rigged. This tends to erode the public's trust in the capability of the Sandiganbayan to render an impartial verdict. It leads the public to conclude that the Arroyo regime had already gone out of its way to force the court to render a guilty verdict.

In a way, the brand of justice that Secretary Raul Gonzalez had accustomed us to expect has conditioned the public to become cynical of court verdicts in the Arroyo era. Madame Gloria Macapagal Arroyo had cast the seeds of that kind of justice that Gonzalez sows, so she only deserves to reap that sort of public cynicism.

But think again — did you really believe that the Arroyo regime would be so stupid to place that kind of an ad? Common sense will tell you that ad creates an information environment that bolsters only the kind of thinking that the Estrada camp would want to promote.

I have raised quite a great deal of big issues against the Arroyo regime but one thing I have to concede is that this regime has mastered the Pinoy public psychology and the manipulation of Pinoy minds through information management. Does anyone really think that the regime will run such an ad — thinking that it will placate those who will be agitated by a guilty verdict?

I can find it in my heart to call Madame Arroyo a liar, a cheater, an illegitimate president, a devious character and a duplicitous person. Indeed, she can even interfere with the independence of the courts if she wanted to. But I don’t think she will be so stupid as to think of running such an ad.

On the other hand, if we were to further try to get into the workings of the mind of the political operator, the real beneficiary of the ad is the Estrada camp. Why and how come? Consider this:

1. The ad will stir public indignation because it floats the impression that the verdict is a done deal and that the Arroyo regime had rigged the guilty verdict. The ad comes across as part of a scheme intended to give closure to everything and prepare the public mind to accept the verdict.

2. The ad creates the feeling that injustice is being carried out. It generates sympathy for Estrada. It suggests that he is innocent and is being framed.

3. The ad places the court on the defensive. There is tremendous pressure placed on the judges who will now have to consider that a guilty verdict will cause a great public disorder. From this perspective, it could precisely be the goal of the Estrada camp to condition the judges to render a "kinder" verdict.

4. The ad removes the case from its legal confines and puts it in the realm of a major political issue. From guilty or not guilty, the issue changes to one of peace or disorder.

After weighing the pros and cons and after determining who benefits the most from the ad — the logical conclusion is that the Estrada camp has a lot to gain from it while the Arroyo regime gets simply zilch.

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