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Draft Supreme Court decision leaked to SWS head

A draft Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) was reportedly leaked to Social Weather Stations president Mahar Mangahas.

The important question: Why?

Was SWS asked to do a quick poll on the impact on public opinion of the different versions of an SC decision?

It was Mangahas himself who boasted in an email June 17 to his e-group in the midst of its members’ intense discussions on the constitutionality of the DAP and its impact on President Aquino’s government:

”It so happened that just this afternoon I read the SC decision. Its very last line is: ‘This Decision is immediately executory but prospective in effect.’

Philippine Star columnist Jarius Bondoc actually reported June 20 that it was a “newspaper columnist (not the Star’s)” who read the decision. Bondoc however did not identify the person.

I followed up Bondoc’s tip and found out that it was Mangahas, who’s really not much of a columnist but is known more for heading the lucrative SWS, a tool not only for measuring, but affecting public opinion, since the 1980s.

However, Mangahas after he felt he was the “columnist” being alluded to in Bondoc’s column, and obviously realizing the import—even criminality—of his boast, back-tracked and claimed that he was referring to the SC decision on the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF)—which was made November last year.

He even wrote his group members: “I have already been cc’ing Jarius. He should have figured out (by now, anyway) that I meant the released SC ruling on pork barrel/PDAF, not DAP which has no decision yet. He could have checked with me by email instead of rushing to write that, “a newspaper columnist had in fact read the ruling etc.”

Mangahas wrote: “What I quoted in my Ateneo group was the last line of the SC ruling on PDAF, not on DAP.”

Members of Mangahas’ e-group of Ateneo 1958 alumni were incredulous though. One wrote:

”The discussion thread was all about the constitutionality of the DAP. PDAF was never talked about. The discussants on the DAP were Vic Barrios, Ted Laguatan, Alex Gaston, Ed Roa, and Rufo Colayco.

“In the middle of the discussion, Mahar interjects his email right on top of Vic Barrios’ email telling everyone that he just read the SC decision… everyone was surprised and assumed that it was on the DAP… since this was the subject matter, not the PDAF.

“Now Mahar is saying that the SC ruling he cited was on PDAF, not the DAP.

What a dissembling weasel!”

Another wrote: “Makes you wonder whether the copy that Mahar read (please refer to his earlier post below) is a leaked copy of an SC ruling that has not yet been released, or a fake (na-kuryente si Mahar).”

If Mangahas did get a leaked copy of a draft SC decision, the only reason for this would be that his SWS was being asked to undertake a quick reading of how public opinion would be on the Court’s decision – or different versions of it – on the DAP.

In response to my query about this, Mangahas in an email said: “Whenever we are consulted about a possible confidential survey, on any issue, it is unethical for us to disclose it.”

Most commentators have already pointed out that if the Court decides that DAP is unconstitutional this could be the biggest blow to the Aquino administration. It could even be grounds for impeachment.

Mangahas’ reference to a ruling that would be “prospective” has been reported by the Manila Times newspaper as one way to uphold the constitution, that the DAP is blatantly unconstitutional, yet the Court would absolve Aquino of any crime.

How public opinion would take this obviously could have been Mangahas’ polling task, and the SC draft decision probably was leaked to him in order to help him formulate the survey questions.

While Filipinos take polls as the “voice of the people,” many social scientists have rigorously demonstrated that these could be easily used to manipulate people’s views, partly because of such survey’s bandwagon effect and people’s preference to be part of the majority.

A classic example was when Senator Sergio Osmena in 2007 asked polling firm Pulse Asia to do a survey on who Filipinos think is the most corrupt president ever.

This was undertaken in a period when so many charges, all unproven to this day, were being hurled in media and in Congress against then President Arroyo and her family. Of course, since people had been barraged with the accusations, 45 percent answered that it was Arroyo.

A more recent case was the deployment of SWS in the administration’s campaign to remove Corona in 2012. It conducted a survey — its financiers unidentified — which claimed, “73 percent of Filipinos wanted Corona convicted.”

Ethical pollsters wouldn’t touch such a topic as no survey questionnaire would be able to capture important facets of the subject, such as respondents’ awareness of what the Chief Justice was being accused of and whether they understand these accusations.

Such a claim by SWS that 73 percent of Filipinos favored Corona’s conviction obviously made it easier for the Senators to accept bribes – via the DAP funds – and convict the Chief Justice.

Aquino’s DAP – undertaken mostly from 2011 and 2012 – involved the virtual junking of much of the budget allocations specified in the General Appropriations Laws passed by Congress. Instead, Aquino’s Budget Secretary Florencio Abad hijacked many such allocations to programs and projects the administration preferred, claiming that this was in order to speed up disbursements to spur economic activity.

The DAP was kept secret and was uncovered only when Senator Jinggoy Estrada, to retaliate against accusations of his theft of his pork barrel funds, alleged that the administration bribed senators into voting for Corona’s impeachment by offering them P100 million in new funds, raised through the DAP mechanism.