Trusting the process

Opposition senator Nene Pimentel famously called the impeachment process a "legal trap," and if memory serves me right could not refrain from saying "I told you so" after the House of Representatives threw out all three impeachment complaints.

And yet, according to the results of the latest Social Weather Stations survey, most Filipinos wanted the President to face the impeachment process, even though many had doubts about the process itself. Is this naivete, or wisdom?

Anti-GMA feelings ran very high in the last few days of the recent hearings of the House Committee on Justice, with the nationwide 3rd Quarter 2005 Social Weather Survey finding 79% wanting President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo impeached, 64% favoring her resignation, and 51% saying she should be removed by People Power if the House of Representatives would reject her impeachment.

Flashback: In surveys taken since the Garcillano tapes surfaced and after the President admitted her "lapse in judgment" in calling an election official during the canvassing, public opinion on what the President did has been firming up: More and more people think she called the election official not merely to protect her votes, as she had said in her apology, but to manipulate the vote.

In the first news release accompanying the latest survey findings, SWS explained the "Garci factor":

The key factor in the negative sentiment is the belief of most Filipinos that GMA’s admitted phone calls to "a Comelec official" amounted to instructing him to cheat in the 2004 election, and were not merely meant to protect her votes as she claimed in her June 27 apology.

Among the majority 57% believing that GMA’s phone calls gave instructions to cheat, 89% were pro-impeachment, 80% were pro-resignation, and 62% were pro-People-Power.

Among the minority 36% accepting that she called the Comelec official only to protect her votes, a large 68% were nevertheless pro-impeachment, but only 44% were pro-resignation, and only 35% were pro-People-Power.

Coupled with the finding that a majority of Filipinos want the President to face impeachment, we can naturally assume that the public wants the impeachment process to end with the President’s conviction in the Senate. And yet, the same survey tells us that the public has "mixed opinions" about whether both chambers of Congress can handle the impeachment case fairly (the questionnaire uses the phrase "makapagbibigay ng makatarungang desisyon").

Only 22 percent of the respondents said they had "much trust" in the capability of the House to reach the right decision. A near-majority of 48 percent said they were unsure, while 29 percent said they had "little trust" in the fairness of the House. The Senate ends up with equally dismal numbers: 24 percent "much trust," 50 percent unsure, 25 percent "little trust."

(SWS notes that what we can call the indices of skepticism followed the pattern of an earlier time, when public opinion about the impeachment of Joseph Estrada five years ago was similarly doubtful about fair play in Congress.) 

So, what do we have? A whopping 79 percent want the President impeached, but about the same proportion of the public either do not think Congress will be fair or are unsure of Congress’s capacity to act fairly. Is this naivete, or wisdom?

I would like to see it as an instinctive trusting of the process. Impeachment is what is called for in the Constitution, so impeachment it is. (Note that resignation, itself an eminently constitutional option, is also a majority opinion. Even "people power," understood in uniquely Filipino terms, has the support, in case of a failure of impeachment, of a statistical majority.) In other words, the public instinctively trusts the constitutional system itself to work out the crisis — but without missing a step.

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