SWS misinforms the public on South China Sea issue

I HAVE pointed out several times before that the Social Weather Stations (SWS) is one of the most nefarious propaganda tools of the ruling class. It did so again recently, serving the needs of the oligarchic triad desperate to continue pressuring China to allow it to extract gas in the Reed Bank, which Vietnam and China also claim.

Misinforming its respondents on what the arbitration ruling was, the SWS claimed in its June 2021 poll that Filipinos “clearly favor stronger action to assert the country’s right in the West Philippine Sea as per the 2016 decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA).” But its poll questions, as I discuss below, present fallacies that could only have led to that result.

The poll was funded by the Stratbase ADR Institute, financed by former Foreign Affairs secretary Albert del Rosario, who pushed for the filing of the arbitration case with China in 2013. Del Rosario’s wealth – and he makes at least P200 million a year – has mainly come from his directorships in the firms of First Pacific Co., which led the triad whose gas-extraction project in the Reed Bank was blocked by China in 2011.

SWS does legitimate surveys that reflect public opinion when the questions are not ambiguous and are clear-cut such as who would the respondent vote for or if he is satisfied or not with the president’s and other officials’ performance.

It uses its reputation acquired in doing such legitimate surveys as cover for its polls the intention of which is merely to support propaganda offensives its clients pay it to do.

A classic case is when SWS conducted a poll in 2006 that concluded that former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was the country’s worst president. The poll was undertaken when the Yellows launched a full-blown black-propaganda offensive against Arroyo with the Philippine Daily Inquirer headlining even outright lies such as those accusing her sons of being involved in the illegal drug trade. Then opposition leader Sergio Osmeña 3rd would later boast that he funded that SWS poll.

Territories

In its June 2021 poll, SWS asked its respondents: “The Philippine government is not doing enough to assert its rights to the country’s territories in the West Philippine Sea as stipulated in the 2016 decision of the PCA.” The negative formulation of the question itself, a no-no in polling, reflects its push-poll nature, i.e, it will elicit more affirmative than negative votes.

More important is the fact that the SWS question contains fallacies. First, it is not the PCA that issued the “ruling.” The PCA merely acted as registrar, lessor of the hall where the hearings were undertaken, and the staff to record the proceedings and keep the coffee flowing for the judges.

The body that issued the award was an ad hoc five-man panel, two of whom were appointed by the Philippines and three by the president of the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea as China had refused to participate in the arbitration. The Chinese even pointed out that all members of the panel were Europeans, except one from Ghana who, however, has lived in Europe for most of his working life.

The distinction is important as the term “court” means a body authorized by a political entity to enforce the laws. The body involved in the Philippine-China arbitration was merely an ad-hoc body. Filipinos whom the SWS asked for their opinion, of course, interpret the word “court” as a court of law, which the body wasn’t, and if it had been a “court” that had handed down the decision, then there is no question that it is to be enforced.

Assert

The SWS also lied in its poll question when it asked its respondents to agree or not to the statement: “The Philippine government is not doing enough to assert its rights to the country’s territories as stipulated in the 2016 decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration.”

The arbitration panel did not rule on Philippine rights on its sovereign territory, only on the legitimacy of exclusive economic zones encompassing certain areas in the Spratlys, as stipulated by a treaty, the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (Unclos). The SWS was being devious in that Filipinos (or anybody else) understood the term “territory” to mean a part of the Philippines’ territory, i.e., Palawan or even waters like the Sulu Sea. If the government was not doing enough to assert its rights over Palawan, of course, all Filipinos would protest.

That the questions the SWS was asked to use were all spoon-fed by del Rosario’s minions to result in spurious findings is obvious in another of its questions: “How important is the Philippine government’s building of structures on the vacant islands in the West Philippine Sea for asserting our rights to these islands?”

But there are no more “vacant” islands in that “sea” nor anywhere in the Spratlys since the 1970s. All 14 islands were occupied in the 1970s by Vietnam and the Philippines. The landforms China occupies were all submerged reefs, which it reclaimed as a response to the filing of the arbitration suit in 2013.

The SWS has been the del Rosario camp’s major propaganda tool in portraying Filipinos as haters of China and avid supporters of the arbitration award, as I have pointed out in several columns, that many scholarly studies routinely quote it as true. Check out among others my columns “Fake SWS poll stokes anti-China sentiments” (July 19, 2019) and “SWS lies in its polls vs China and govt policy” (July 18, 2018). SWS is paid by a client, it produces “polls” that the client wants or thinks, as del Rosario does, that it could pressure the government into a war with China. The SWS has produced more than a dozen push polls that say Filipinos distrusted China more than any other country they are familiar with.

Ignorance

The SWS is ignorant or pretends ignorance of the deep flaw in opinion polls. It “mistakenly assumes that everyone is politically and intellectually competent enough to interpret the questions the way pollsters and journalists do and that all people must have an opinion on such matters” as a scholar put it. The SWS even worsens the interpretation of poll questions.

Does the SWS really think that its respondents know what the arbitration case really was? C’mon. Even its people, PhDs, I was told, who formulated the survey questions on it are obviously ignorant about it or merely adopted what del Rosario told them to ask.

This is a lesson not only on the South China Sea issue. Before you believe polls, check first if its questions are not cleverly formulated to elicit a result the pollster or his client wants or if ordinary people even know what the poll questions really mean. There’s a legitimate side to it and there’s a racket side.

The poll, of course, is valid when it asks you who you will vote for or if you are satisfied with the current president. But if it asks its respondents if they believe the theory of quantum physics or the arbitral panel’s award on China’s compliance with Unclos, be very suspicious.

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