Schizoids at the Senate

The everyday term for it is “split-personality.” The schizoid is a personality type troubled by a disconnection of mental functions. When attuned to the shared reality of the moment, he is a portrait of lucidity.  Most of the time, however, he is simply lost in the world of his own private language.  His mental framework oscillates unpredictably between two zones of reason.  In the worst of cases, he may assume multiple selves, each one cut off from the rest.

Something analogous to this syndrome may make its appearance at the Senate once the impeachment trial of President Estrada begins. Senators are like all politicians: they have affiliations, and they are partisans for or against certain causes and individuals.  As party members, they are bound by certain loyalties.   Their advocacies are their biases.  Their personal attachments are their politics.

In the impeachment case against the president, senators are supposed to metamorphose overnight into jurors or judges.  In fact they take a separate oath as jurors.  In this capacity, they are expected to be impartial, open-minded, and free from bias.  They swear to vote only according to their conscience and the weight of the evidence.  They are not to have any preconceived notions about the case.

These two roles, lodged in the same person, are diametrically opposed to one another.  The original role of partisan legislator compels senators to gather their forces, defend their political allies, and play the game of numbers.  Their role as juror, in contrast, commands them to have no opinion about a case prior to the presentation of the evidence.  The typical senator is one who habitually conspires with others in caucuses to bring about a result. The ideal juror, on the other hand, is an isolated individual who is banned from discussing the case with any other juror except when all are called to deliberate as a collective body.

Although we have no jury system in our country, American movies and television programs have made the methods of jury selection familiar to us.  We know that members of a jury are carefully chosen from a list of citizens summoned for jury duty.  The less a person knows about a given case and the parties involved, the greater are the chances that he will be drafted as a juror.  When the parties involved are celebrities, or when the case itself has caught public attention, it is normal for jurors to be quarantined and discouraged from having access to the news and commentaries.  The intention is to preserve their objectivity.

Nothing of the sort is required when senators sit as jurors.  Not only are they open to all kinds of pressure from within and without, they also seem free to speak out their views on the impeachment case even before the trial has begun.  One of them, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, has gone to the extent of predicting the acquittal of the president on the basis of the 8 or 9 senators supposedly constituting his loyal forces.  Yet no single piece of evidence has even been presented.  Two of the senators, John Osmena and Teresita Aquino-Oreta, are not only reputed to be among the president’s closest friends. In fact, they have been tagged as recipients of tainted money, although they claim to be just unwitting beneficiaries.  The point is that, no matter how overwhelming the evidence against the president may be, nobody expects Santiago, Osmena, and Oreta and others like them to rise above personal loyalty to vote for his conviction.

Constitutional experts tell us that an impeachment trial is by its nature a partisan exercise.  I take this to mean that the weight of the evidence is ultimately trumped by the weight of political allegiance. Some senators do not seem bothered by this at all.  Farthest from their mind is the notion that they might voluntarily exclude themselves from the hearings if only to guarantee the integrity of the trial.   No, they will not do that; they are there to ensure only one thing — the acquittal of their man.

Schizoids can often seem coherent while acting out their roles within the world of delusion.  No truth is powerful enough to jolt them from their stupor.  They inhabit another plane and, in the company of fellow schizoids, they feel no dissonance.   The incongruity of their demeanor and speech, the disjunction between their avowed sentiments and overt behavior, will however be visible to everyone else.

Therefore, the real jury here is going to be the public, the community of the “reasonable man.”  The nation has been promised a fair trial. That is all it will look for.  The people’s jury – ordinary men and women armed only with their faculty of commonsense reasoning — will follow the impeachment trial on radio, television, and the newspapers.  They will pass their own judgment on what is admissible or inadmissible as evidence.  They will make their own conclusions about who is lying and who is telling the truth.  They will not care about the distinction between political justice and neutral justice.  If the senators take their oath as judges, the public will expect them to conduct themselves with the same impartiality as Supreme Court justices.

They will not be permitted the luxury of their delusions.  They will not be allowed to act as judges one moment while behaving like politicians the next.  The public, sitting as jury, will force them to abide by only one set of rules, the rules of the reasonable person.  And if at the end they should deliver a verdict that contradicts every norm of reason, the protest movement will be there to pronounce them insane and to pull them down from their pedestals.


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