Is ‘Vox Populi’ still ‘Vox Dei’?

By Manuel Rodriguez II 

The latin maxim “vox populi, vox dei” has always been a motto of any democratic nation, translated in English it means “the voice of the people is the voice of God.” In the Philippines, the said motto is continuously being used especially during election season. Our very own Constitution is no less emphatic in adherence to the motto; on its very own words it is stated that ‘sovereignty resides in the people.’ 

As a member of a democratic institution, we are already used in hearing the concept of ‘vox populi, vox dei.’ Many Filipinos never dared to question its truthfulness despite the knowledge that human beings are very susceptible to commit mistakes. Logic will tell us that human beings, being imperfect cannot dictate what the ‘voice of God’ should be. 

 Filipinos, with total reliance to the ‘maxim’ (probably due to their religiosity), became irresponsible in using the most precious God-given gift our Nation has, namely our democracy. With the emergence of technology and the strengthening of the media, people’s thoughts are became easily prone to influence, therefore, high profiled people already has the power to manipulate what the ‘people’s voice’ (God’s voice) will be. It’s like them playing god, or becoming the ‘Big Brother’ of Orwell’s classic. Now a query is posed by the circumstance, “Is vox populi still vox dei?”
With the current political crisis that we are facing, specifically the ongoing existence of an Impeachment Court with the highest magistrate as defendant, what role must public opinion play? 

A survey conducted by Pulse Asia (many would like to refer to it as the ‘False’ Asia) said that 47 percent of Filipinos think Chief Justice Corona is guilty of the charges filed against him, 43 percent are undecided, and only 5 percent say believe he is innocent. The remaining 5 percent are the ones who claim that they do not have enough basis to make a decision. Again, let me pose a query, does the survey mirror the “voice of God?” 

The survey was conducted to 1,900 respondents across the country. I am no expert in surveys or in statistics, but in my personal opinion, I do not think that the 1,900 can speak to the more than 90 million Filipinos. What the survey did was only to destroy the thinking caps of our fellowmen and tilted their beliefs to be against Corona by having a press release that says he is unpopular. Once again, we saw a showcase on how powerful media is in manipulating the opinion of many. Sad but true, Filipinos are poor thinkers as regards political stands. How many times have we elected an official whom we later on regretted? Many. 

Another point is about the timing of the said survey. Pulse Asia conducted the survey from Feb 26 to March 9, before the defense presented its evidence in the impeachment court. Therefore, the veracity is questionable. How come the 47 percent arrived on a conclusion that the Chief Justice is guilty when in fact there is no evidence from the defense team has been presented yet? Common sense tells us that the Pulse Asia survey was conducted prematurely. 

Our fellowmen (especially the Senator-Judges), must base their opinion on an educated analysis of the evidence presented. While it is true that not all citizens are learned in the science and art of law, a sense of justice is surely present in the consciousness of everyone.

One must view an issue objectively and with an open mind, that is the essence of the “principle of due process” and the “rule of law.” When this is done, issues may be seen differently. The propaganda of the President against Corona outside the impeachment court will be seen as unjust, the signing of the 188 Congressmen will be seen as capricious, and the accusations in the impeachment will be seen as weak arguments, the court performance of the prosecution team will be seen as unpersuasive, and His Excellency will be seen as a tyrant. 

These things are what I saw using objective eyes, it is my hope that you too will see things in this light. We can all agree to disagree. I respect the adverse opinion of others on this issue; all that I ask is for an educated stance in siding either for the prosecution or for the defense. And for the record, it is not the Chief Justice that I support, it just so happened that he is the one at the other end of the rope. What I support are the principles of justice, the rule of law and the independence of the Judiciary. In my view, if we let the Chief Justice’s Constitutional rights be trampled upon, all the more we open the door to let them trample upon our rights as mere ordinary citizens. 

The impeachment court’s duty now is to administer justice and not to conform to the opinion of the public. As pointed out by the Presiding Officer, the Honorable Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile: 

“I will look at the evidence. If we use surveys to convict a person charged in the courts, then we don’t need courts. All we have to do is conduct surveys whenever somebody is charged.”

Let us be remembered that the Son of God himself was a victim of a “survey judgment.” It was public opinion that led him to be hanged on the cross instead of Barabas. I do not think that the Jewish chanting “kill him” and “crucify him” is the “voice of God.” 

I am not advocating that ‘survey firms’ should be banned. I believe that banning them will lead to a violation of their constitutional right to expression. What I am saying merely is that, every person must be responsible in their actions. Article 19 of our Civil Code says it all: 

“Every person in the exercise of his rights and in the performance of his duties, act with justice, give everyone his due, and observe honesty and good faith.” 
I think aside from the results, survey firms should disclose other facts behind the conducting of the survey such as the margin of error used, the number of respondents, the purpose of the survey, the questions in the survey, the time the survey was conducted, what party sponsored the survey and other relevant information so as to educate the people on how to properly assess a political issue (especially during election time).

There is really no hard and fast rule to determine the true “voice of God.” Ergo, the answer to the question on whether ‘vox populi’ is ‘vox dei’ is “not always.” All we could do as mere mortals is to live out the wordings of Civil Code’s Article 19, hold on to our faith, and be responsible in using the democracy that we have. 

We Filipinos should be united in two things, first, united in prayer to make our fellowmen wise citizens and second, united in action, that in all our dealings we contribute to nation building. 

MANILA, March 27, 2012

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Professor of "The Humanities" at the Lyceum of the Philippines University. Law Student at the Far Eastern University, Institute of Law. President and former Auditor of Legal Network for Truthful Elections (UST Chapter) Former Vice President- Internal of Batas Tomasino: The UST Law Society, Former Chairperson of UST-Students' Democratic Party. Former Vice President- Internal of UST UNESCO. Former Public Relations Officer (PRO) of UST Arts and Letters Student Council. Former Vice President Internal of Community Achievers' Association (UST-AB). Bachelor of Arts in Legal Management (University of Santo Tomas, '09) High School Education (Christian Academy of Manila, '05)