The results of the latest Pulse Asia survey on the performance and trust ratings of President Duterte and his key officials drew considerable scepticism and criticism from political analysts.

The nationwide survey conducted from Sept. 14 to 20 among Filipinos aged 18 and above revealed that 90% of Filipinos approve of President Duterte’s performance amid the Duterte administration’s effort to control the spread of COVID-19. Vice-President Leni Robredo had a 57% approval rating, Senate President Tito Sotto, 84%, House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, 70%, and Supreme Court Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta, 44%.

The respondents were asked to give their opinion on the performance of the officials’ duty in the last three months. They were to choose from several options: approve, truly approve, somewhat approve, disapprove, somewhat disapprove, truly disapprove.

As for their trust ratings, President Duterte scored 91%, followed by Senator Sotto with 79%, Speaker Cayetano with 67%, Vice-President Robredo with 50%, and Chief Justice Peralta with 39%.

The political pundits find it hard to reconcile the high ratings of the President and his key allies in the Senate and in the House of Representatives with the various issues surrounding the administration’s poor response to the pandemic while the Vice-President fared badly when she has been rolling out her own assistance to those affected adversely by the lockdown without help from the administration.

Among the issues cited were the massive corruption allegations against executives of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp., which plays a crucial role in meeting the challenge posed by the pandemic, the indecision regarding the opening of classes and the inadequacy of the country’s communications system for the new teaching method the pandemic circumstance requires, the denial of the popular ABS-CBN broadcast network of a new franchise, and the spending of P349 million for the beautification of the baywalk alongside Roxas Boulevard when the government has claimed it no longer has the resources to give financial aid to those who lost their job or livelihood due to the lockdown.

A number of the skeptical analysts asked if a climate of fear influenced individuals’ answers to the survey. University of the Philippines Professor of Sociology Randy David wrote in his Oct. 11 column in the Inquirer: “Any show of hesitation on the part of the respondent, or any reservation, has to be noted, evaluated, and considered in the interpretation of the data. This requires of the interviewer a sensitivity and concern for the integrity of responses that may not always be there in the actual field work.

“Most importantly, on something as controversial as, say, President Duterte’s performance and his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, interviewees must be assured there are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers. Indeed, a guarantee of strict confidentiality is routinely given in almost all opinion surveys. But that guarantee may not mean much to people who cannot tell the difference between a legitimate private survey and one conducted by a government agency. Even if they can, what are the chances that they would not be deterred in their responses by the simple thought that the ‘kapitan’ might know how they answered?”

Pulse Asia President Ronnie Holmes may have read that column of Professor David for when he guested in the TV show Basagan ng Trip that morning of Oct. 11, he admitted that fear, though difficult to measure, cannot be ruled out as possibly influencing survey results. He said you can’t rule out the possibility that there are some people whose prevailing sentiment is apprehension or fear.

According to Mr. Holmes, Pulse Asia interviewers record the “nonverbal behavior” of survey respondents, such as the time it takes a respondent to answer questions, if he showed apprehension, or appeared to be assessing the interviewer. However, the interviewers’ observations are not shared with the public.

When the Social Weather Stations (SWS) published the results of its 3rd Quarter survey in November of 2018, the detractors of President Duterte laughed off the findings. They asked derisively how 70% of adult Filipinos could be satisfied with President Duterte’s performance when prices of basic commodities were soaring, the drug trade was flourishing, and incidents of crime increasing. Some political observers went as far as to say that SWS had been co-opted by the President just as non-believers of results of Pulse Asia surveys are suspecting that the pollsters are “doctoring” the findings to gain the goodwill of the President.

I didn’t think so. The projections of SWS and Pulse Asia surveys have always been borne out by the results of the general elections. That is because their survey method is in accordance with accepted general practice in the field of public opinion polling. I know the method for I was once a research associate at Robot Statistics, the first public opinion pollster in the country and a Gallup Poll affiliate.

In reaction to the high satisfaction rating of the President in surveys in 2018, I ventured to opine that it was the integrity of the answers of the respondents that may be suspect. I wrote back then that survey respondents might be afraid to say something unfavorable to the President, his directives, and his programs.

As the President has shown a disdain for criticism and opposition, as evidenced by the fates of Senators Leila de Lima and Antonio Trillanes, Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno, media organizations Philippine Daily Inquirer and Rappler, and journalist Maria Ressa, survey respondents might also be afraid to say something not favorable of him. Because of fear of the possible adverse consequence of their answers, the respondents’ answers during SWS interviews may not reflect their true sentiments.

Interviews are conducted face-to-face. The respondent’s name and address are known to the interviewer. The respondents could be suspicious of the interviewer’s true purpose. That may be the reason for the favorable rating of President Duterte in surveys.

That is why in my column of April 30, 2019, I wrote that political surveys are not useful in these times. The prevailing atmosphere of fear may restrain respondents from expressing their true sentiments. With prominent and credible political analysts casting doubt on the validity of the results of the surveys on the President, his directives, and his programs, because of the atmosphere of fear, such surveys have no value.


Oscar P. Lagman, Jr. is a retired corporate executive, business consultant, and management professor. He has been a politicized citizen since his college days in the late 1950s.