Are Senator-Judges telling CJ Rene Corona to testify or lose?
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2012-03-25

Two separate surveys conducted by professional survey firms Pulse Asia and Stratpolls showed remarkably low public perception that embattled Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice (CJ) Renato Corona is innocent of the charges against him in the Senate impeachment trial. The Pulse Asia nationwide poll was conducted from February 26 to March 9 while the latest available Stratpolls tracking was conducted only in the NCR (National Capital Region) from February 20 to 23. 

Per the Pulse Asia survey that was released last Tuesday, 47 percent saw CJ Corona as GUILTY, 43 percent cannot yet decide either way at the moment but only 5 percent saw the CJ as INNOCENT. Per the Stratpolls February 20 to 23 tracking, an average of around 65 percent saw the CJ as GUILTY, while only 7 percent saw him as INNOCENT. There were 23 percent still undecided in the Stratpolls survey.

There could be a glimmer of hope for the CJ in the Stratpolls survey where his INNOCENT rating rose from a low of 5 percent to its February 23 rating of 11 percent. In the Stratpolls survey, the undecided expanded from 17 percent in February 20 to 32 percent on February 23. In the same survey, GUILTY perception diminished from 78 percent on February 20 to 57 percent on February 23. In the Pulse Asia NCR component of their nationwide survey, the CJ rated 4 percent as INNOCENT, 45 percent as undecided and 50 percent as GUILTY.

While it is true that the evidence presented in the impeachment trial should guide Senator-Judges — still it cannot be said that they will not be influenced by public opinion. Many of the Senator-Judges are running in the 2013 elections and they’ll be committing political seppuku to register a judgment that’s very unpopular. Do you really think these Senator-Judges will not take note of the low public perception of the CJ’s innocence — 5 percent in the nationwide Pulse Asia survey and 11 percent in the Stratpolls NCR survey?

Key to the CJ’s cause is how to convert the undecided to see him as innocent. That’s why several Senator-Judges have suggested that CJ Corona should make a court appearance and give his personal testimony under oath, instead of conducting a media campaign as if he is a politician running for public office. CJ Corona has to look at this suggestion by the Senator-Judges as a message of: “You’re losing this case if you don’t appear and make a good explanation.” This could be an indirect message to the CJ that his defense has failed to address all the issues raised.

From the way the CJ has been fighting this impeachment battle, it’s obvious that he’s engaged on two fronts — the impeachment court and the court of public opinion. The court of public opinion plays a significant role because the jurors are politicians with political bases to protect. Also weighing heavily in the collective conscience of the Senator-Judges is the People Power outcome of the President Joseph Estrada impeachment trial. They would not want to provoke that again. Most of the Estrada allied senatorial candidates in the 2001 elections lost as a result of the fallout.

What aggravates the situation for the CJ is that many of the key witnesses his defense team had already presented raised more questions rather than provide clarification. How many people do you think accepted the testimony of Demetrio Vicente, the CJ’s cousin who claimed ownership of the over 3,000 square meter Marikina Heights property? In this day and age of swindling in land deals, how many folks out there will not think that Vicente is merely fronting for the CJ and his wife Tina? The normal behavior of land buyers is to immediately transfer the title of the property to them lest they become victims of a second sale of the property by the still registered owner.

Those unopened dollar bank accounts of the CJ are exacerbating a bad situation. CJ Corona has to make good his promise to present this at the trial during the defense presentation of evidence. The longer the CJ keeps these dollar accounts under lid, the bigger the amount people will think that he is hiding. The bank secrecy law protecting foreign currency deposits here does not influence public opinion, especially when this law is perceived to be protecting irregularly acquired large sums of money.
Unopened, what will stop the people from thinking that the CJ is hiding over $1 million or over $100 million in these accounts? There’s no limit that you can impose on public perception. Isn’t it normal for people to think that the unopened CJ dollar deposits must be tremendous and cannot be explained? Doesn’t it make better sense to open a big dollar account and then explain it rather than allow public perception, not to mention the perception of the Senator-Judges, to run wild in speculating on its size and sources?

Time is running out for CJ Corona to extricate himself from the deep credibility black hole that he is in. A 5 percent Pulse Asia nationwide innocent rating demonstrates how few believe the CJ. The longer the CJ delays his personal appearance and testimony, the more people will be inclined to believe that he is guilty. Up to this point, there has been no significant defense presentation that can sway the undecided to favor the CJ.

If the Anti Money Laundering Council grants the request of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales to access the CJ’s dollar accounts, that would preempt any plan for the CJ to make an impeachment court appearance and open the dollar accounts as he promised. CJ Corona must not wait for the Ombudsman to access his dollar accounts. He must preempt this by testifying and opening his dollar accounts in the impeachment trial.

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Shakespeare: “Madness in great ones must never unwatched go.”

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