On the recent surveys favorable to Duterte

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Oscar P. Lagman, Jr.

To Take A Stand

On the recent surveys favorable to Duterte

Detractors of President Rodrigo Duterte cannot believe the findings of Social Weather Stations (SWS) that 70% of adult Filipinos are satisfied with the President’s performance and that the country is in the right direction despite the high prices of basic commodities, the drug trade still thriving, and incidents of crime as rampant as before.

The 3rd Quarter 2018 Social Weather Survey, conducted from Sept. 15-23 found 70% of adult Filipinos satisfied with the performance of President Duterte and 75% saying the country is in the right direction. Compared to June 2018, gross satisfaction with the President rose by 5 points from 65% and those who believe the country is in the right direction went up by 5 points from 70%.

Some netizens say SWS has been co-opted by the President. I do not think so. I have no doubt about the integrity of SWS surveys. Its projections have been borne out by the results of the general elections. That is because its survey method is in accordance with accepted general practice in the field of public opinion polling.

This is not in defense of SWS. I have no connection with it and never had. I met Mr. Mahar Mangahas of SWS at the anniversary party of BusinessWorld, I think in 2005. I never saw or talked to him since then. This is more in defense of public opinion polling. I was with Robot Statistics, the country’s first independent public opinion pollster/market research firm and Gallup affiliate, in the early 1960s. It was my first job. I learned then how respondents to public opinion polls are drawn at random so that the entire lot is representative of the voting population. I assume SWS draws its 1,500 respondents the same way.

If there is an apparent contradiction between the respondents’ positive perception of the President’s performance and his critics’ negative assessment of it, it may be attributed to the ambiguity of the question asked of the respondents. The wordings of the survey questions were as follows:

Maaari po bang pakisabi ninyo kung gaano kayo nasisiyahan o hindi nasisiyahan sa pagganap ng tungkulin ni Rodrigo Duterte bilang Presidente ng Pilipinas? Kayo ba ay lubos na nasisiyahan, medyo nasisiyahan, hindi tiyak kung nasisiyahan o hindi, medyo hindi nasisiyahan, lubos na hindi nasisiyahan, o wala pa kayong narinig o nabasa kahit na kailan tungkol kay Rodrigo Duterte?” (Please tell me how satisfied or dissatisfied you are with the performance of Rodrigo Duterte as President of the Philippines. Are you very satisfied, somewhat satisfied, undecided if satisfied or dissatisfied, somewhat dissatisfied, very dissatisfied, or you have not ever heard or read anything about Rodrigo Duterte?)

Sa pangkalahatan, kung iisipin po ang kasalukuyang mga nangyayari sa bansa, sa inyong palagay, patungo po ba ang ating bansa sa tama o maling direksyon? (In general, thinking about the way things are going in the country, in your opinion, is our country going in the right or wrong direction?)

Alfred Whitehead wrote in The Art of Asking Questions that “language is always ambiguous as to the exact proposition which it indicates.” The ambiguity occurs because each individual interprets the question from the interviewee’s viewpoint. As a result, the interviewee’s interpretation of the question is his own and may be significantly different from another person’s understanding.

SWS draws its sample from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) population figures. According to PSA, the Philippine population breaks down into 1% AB, 9% C, 60% D, and 30% E. If the sample of 1,500 respondents is representative of the voting population, as it should be, then only 15 respondents come from the socio-economic class AB and 135 come from Class C. The bulk of the interviews therefore is conducted among the lower socioeconomic classes — 900 from among those belonging to the socioeconomic class D and 450 to the class E.

It can be safely said that based on their circumstances in life, the highest educational attainment of the 1,350 respondents from the Lower Classes would be 2nd Year High School. Their access to information pertaining to governance cannot be through the print media as they would rather buy food than buy a newspaper. Their main source of information regarding the national and local governments must be the broadcast media as they need not own a radio or television set. There is always someone in their neighborhood who lets neighbors listen or watch what is being aired on his set.

I wonder, therefore, if the great majority of the respondents know what the responsibilities and duties of the president are. The presidential election in 2004 may give us an idea of how the majority of adult Filipinos or Filipino voters perceive the presidency. The strong contenders were Fernando Poe, Jr. and Gloria Arroyo.

Pre-election polls projected Mr. Poe as the likely winner. Namfrel Quick Count of actual votes cast had him ahead of Mrs. Arroyo — 11.2 million votes for him versus 10.5 million for her. The final official count was 12.9 million votes cast for Mrs. Arroyo and 11.8 million for Mr. Poe. Some pundits said the results were tampered with by Comelec Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano in favor of Mrs. Arroyo, although other objective election analysts claimed she had 200,000 more votes than Mr. Poe even if there had not been any cheating.

Whatever, the point is that almost as many Filipinos voted for Mr. Poe, a college dropout with zero experience in governance, as those who voted for Mrs. Arroyo, a Doctor of Economics, a nine-year senator, and the sitting president. When Mr. Poe’s daughter Grace ran for president in 2016 with the battle cry “Gusto kong ipagpatuloy ang mga simulain ni FPJ” (I want to continue what FPJ had started), she immediately dropped the slogan when asked what her father had started. She herself could not cite any initiative of her father.

Note that two other candidates with better credentials in government service, Panfilo Lacson and Raul Roco, got much less votes than Mr. Poe. Mr. Lacson, a Philippine Military Academy graduate, holder of a master’s degree in Government Management, former Philippine National Police chief, and sitting senator in 2004, got 3.5 (11%) million votes. Only 2.1 million (6.4%) votes were cast for Mr. Roco, who earned a master’s degree in Law from the University of Pennsylvania, a nine-year senator, and former secretary of Education.

So when adult Filipinos are asked if they are satisfied or dissatisfied with the performance of the president, each respondent has his own frame of reference. Some may say that in the case of Mr. Duterte the great majority of respondents may have a common frame of reference: the fulfillment of his promises when he campaigned for the presidency.

Mr. Duterte was mayor of Davao City for 23 years. As mayor, he launched major reform programs in Davao City. He suppressed crime, corruption, and drug addiction. When he ran for president, he promised he would do the same on a national scale in six months if not in weeks. He also promised to stop contractualization and enter into peace talks with the NPA, NDF, CPP, MILF, and MNLF. So, respondents of surveys on the President’s performance have basis for judging his performance.

But President Duterte himself admitted in August that he was wrong to assume that he could eliminate the illegal drug trade in three to six months. He also intimated that he might not succeed in eradicating corruption. As to crime, it should be obvious even to the people from the Lower Economic Classes that crime is still rampant if it had not increased. The three major TV stations open their evening news daily with video clips of break-ins into homes and offices, daring holdups of restaurant customers, hijacking of vehicles, violent street gang wars, and brazen assassinations in the streets. He failed to end contractualization and terminated peace talks with the Left.

The SWS respondents’ frame of reference in assessing his performance cannot therefore be President Duterte’s fulfillment of his campaign promises for he himself has admitted he failed to fulfill many of them. Most of the SWS respondents may have as reference his frequent appearance on TV. They probably consider this as the President’s effort to reach out to them even if he is just chattering. We do not know that for a fact.

As to the question what direction our country is going in, it is so vague that respondents may not have any interpretation at all.

As President Duterte has shown a disdain for criticism and opposition, as evidenced by the fate of Senator de Lima, Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno, and Sen. Antonio Trillanes, survey respondents could also be afraid to say something negative about the President. That may be the reason for the favorable rating of President Duterte in surveys, regardless of how ambiguous or vague the questions may be.


Oscar P. Lagman, Jr. is a member of Manindigan! a cause-oriented group of businessmen, professionals, and academics.