LAST March 18, a wacky group announced that it would organize the country’s “democratic forces” in order to resist President Duterte’s “authoritarianism.” The very next day, the Social Weather Stations released the results of its November 21-25 survey that very much belies their claim and shows how detached they are from reality they should start talking to ordinary folk.
The SWS poll showed that 65 percent of its respondents agreed with the statement: “I can say anything I want, openly and without fear, even it is against the administration.” That 65 percent “grade” is the highest since September 1988, through three decades, and through five administrations.
It is only lower than the 74 percent who agreed to that statement in March 1987. I even suspect that was a statistical error, since it steeply dived in the next poll, in September 1988 to 46 percent. President Corazon Aquino averaged just 54 percent for this measure of freedom for her entire administration. Duterte’s average so far is 58 percent.
While this rating reports Filipinos’ assessment of their country’s “freedom of expression without fear of reprisals from government,” it is one of the most important of the so-called seven freedoms under a democracy.* This notion is indeed reflected in the SWS’ claim that when it first made this kind of poll, in July 1985 towards the end of the Marcos era, only 33 percent of Filipinos said that they “can say anything I want, openly and without fear, even if it is against the administration.”
I posit therefore that this rating also measures how much Filipinos believe they are free, and living in a robust democracy. Therefore, based on SWS polls on this matter, Filipinos never have felt so free and living in a democracy since March 1987, the apex of the short-lived exhilaration over the fall of the Marcos dictatorship. This is confirmed in polls by taken by the renowned pollster, the American Pew Research Center, that I discuss below.
However, as the Yellows in the SWS do occasionally, they added a question to further their propaganda aims, in this case to present what is otherwise a favorable report on Duterte to one that portrays him as an authoritarian suppressing freedom of expression in the country. It asked its respondents the question: “It is dangerous to print or broadcast anything critical of the administration, even if it is the truth.” The inclusion of the phrase “even if it is the truth” reveals it as obviously a “push poll” – one anteceded to elicit a specific response — as it gives the question a moral twist. Furthermore, how can the poll assume the veracity of the critical reports?
SWS — or whoever commissioned the poll — got what it wanted. The Yellow media outlets, the Philippine Daily Inquirer and Rappler, reported only this part of the poll, with the same headline: “65 percent of Filipinos agree: ‘Dangerous to print or broadcast anything critical’ of Duterte.” The message of course, is that Duterte is suppressing one of the fundamental freedoms under a democracy, freedom of speech.
That SWS poll question is so fundamentally flawed no other pollster with an iota of integrity uses that in the entire world. Why?
It is asking laymen, ordinary folks, to answer a question they don’t have the slightest information about, except the reports of the self-serving accusations of ABS-CBN and that internet news site, that Duterte is persecuting them for being critical of his administration.
It is equivalent to asking a poll question: “Is the Bureau of Internal Revenue harassing companies critical of Duterte by auditing their tax returns?” Or a more banal example, “Are police afraid when they patrol the streets at night?”
Answers to such questions given to a random sample of respondents have totally no value, as the respondents would have zero information on this. Unless, as in the case of the SWS poll question, the intention was to propagate the Yellows and the two media outlets’ accusations of press suppression by Duterte. The respondents of course have heard of these claims because of ABS-CBN’S wide reach and because of their allies in media, mainly the Philippine Daily Inquirer, and lazily believe them.
These poll questions would have value if they are asked of a particular sector of the population. For instance, the SWS’ respondents should have been members of the National Press Club or the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas, or a randomly selected staff of the four biggest broadsheets. Their reports would give a real picture of the state of press freedom in the country. How can one claim that the ABS-CBN and Rappler episodes had a “chilling effect” on press militancy, as Red operator Teodoro Casiño tweeted, if he is not a practicing journalist?
That there is much freedom of speech in the Philippines is bolstered by reliable polls elsewhere. For instance, the respected Pew Research Center in its Global Attitudes Survey undertaken “Spring, 2018” reported 80 percent of Filipinos believed that the “right of people to express their views in public are protected.” That figure is the third highest (after Indonesia with 86 percent and the Netherlands, with 84 percent) among 27 countries, even higher than those of the US (73 percent), Japan (62 percent), and the UK (67 percent).
Pew Research also found that 69 percent of Filipinos are “satisfied with the way democracy is working in their country.”
That is the highest rating – tied with that of Sweden — among the 27 countries polled by the center. Filipinos believe democracy is working here more than any other people in 27 nations, rich and poor, in the West or East.
These are hard data, culled by a very objective and competent pollster. That new wacky group, the Yellows and the communists’ “Duterte Diktador” propaganda line do not have a bit of semblance to reality; if they think that issue will win them the 2022 elections, they are deranged.
*The other six freedoms are freedom of speech, religion, press, travel, protection by the laws as well as to vote and to petition the government for redress of grievances.