And OCTA’s flawed poll
POLITICIANS like Jinggoy Estrada and Risa Hontiveros, who think being vehemently against China will make them so popular for a higher position, had better do some hard thinking.
An overwhelming majority of Filipinos — 81 percent — are worried that if the “geopolitical tensions between the US and China increases, the country’s national security will be put at risk,” according to a poll undertaken in June last year by the Eurasia Group Foundation, a respected political risk consultancy founded in 1998.
The percentage of Filipinos very much concerned is significantly higher than the 38 percent of Singaporeans worried and 67 percent of South Koreans.
While the study did not explain these results, the major factor involved is the degree of each country’s alignment with the United States. South Korea has been the US’ most important vassal state in Asia, rooted in the Korean War, in which the Americans saved the South from being overwhelmed by China and the communist North Koreans. The US has 14 military bases spread throughout South Korea and has 28,500 troops based there. South Korea will most definitely be drawn into the fray, which could be a nuclear one.
In contrast — and certainly explaining the small percentage of Singaporeans worried over a US-China conflict — Singapore “has staked a nonaligned position in the growing rivalry between the United States and China,” the report said.
The only logical reason for the 81 percent of Filipinos worried over a US-China conflict is President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s transformation of the country not just as the US’ major ally in Southeast Asia, but as the Americans’ proxy in the region in containing the new superpower’s rise.
Indeed, in a US-China military conflict, the Philippines will most certainly be the target for China’s missiles aimed at the nine American “rotational” military bases spread from the northernmost part of the archipelago in Cagayan to Palawan island facing the Spratlys, where the Chinese have built artificial island-fortresses.
While politicians like Estrada and Hontiveros have been mesmerized by flawed polls that claim Filipinos’ overwhelming support for the government’s belligerence toward China, this will have a serious blowback if the US-China rivalry intensifies. In a conflict short of a shooting war, China will most likely retaliate against the Philippines by slowing down its trade to and from the country.
This will have catastrophic results for the country as China accounts for 30 percent of the Philippines’ total exports and imports, while the superpower’s trade with it is just 2 percent of its total transactions with the world. The US most certainly won’t be able to increase its trade with the country to make up for the Chinese losses.
In that scenario — of near empty grocery shelves and Philippine fruits rotting at Chinese ports — I would think Filipinos will be blaming politicians who have been so vehemently anti-China for helping stoke the US-China tensions to the brink of war.
I’ve been a fan of the OCTA Research Group for its very timely polls, and the fact that it broke the monopoly of Social Weather Stations (SWS), which I have been very critical of for undertaking flawed polls that were really insidious propaganda for the Yellow forces at their heyday (google “Tiglao SWS”).
However, OCTA has recently replaced SWS in undertaking flawed polls involving the country’s territorial and maritime-area disputes with China, which only serve to bolster the government’s very wrong foreign policy on this issue.
Its latest poll released December 28 reported that “58 percent now agree with the Marcos’ administration’s policies and program to address the territorial disputes between the Philippines and China, a 15-point increase from the 43 percent reported in July 2023.”
National Security Adviser Eduardo Año — who has been pushing for a belligerent stance against China — of course, was ecstatic over the OCTA poll, saying that he appreciates “the support of the Filipino people and the public can be assured that the NSC will always advance the national interest and protect our sovereignty and territorial integrity at all times.” That sounded so scripted.
It was the SWS which first undertook this kind of propaganda disguised as a poll when in 2019 it claimed majority support for its survey question: “The Philippine government should assert its right to the islands in the West Philippine Sea as stipulated in the 2016 decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration.”
It was a very wrong question. There was no such Permanent Court of Arbitration “decision asserting the Philippines’ right to the islands in the West Philippine Sea.” (See “Fake SWS poll stokes anti-China sentiments.”) Respondents could only agree with it, as it claimed that a “court” asserted the Philippines’ rights. What an ad hoc tribunal actually ruled using the PCA as its registry (keeper of records) was that the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EZZ) under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) did encompass certain reefs (not a single island) in the Spratlys. The tribunal though was silent on China’s claims that these reefs were within its sovereign territory, as established more than a hundred years ago and recognized by most of the world, which an EEZ (which took effect only in 1994) cannot overrule.
The most important thing to understand though whether a poll is legitimate or a mere propaganda operation is whether the poll questions are designed to elicit responses the fake pollster wants to get and present as people’s views.
A prime criterion for a legitimate poll is that the respondents must have some knowledge of the issue he is asked to comment on. The SWS polls and now that of OCTA asked respondents to comment on the South China disputes, which is a very complicated issue that most Filipinos, not even its intellectual elite, are really not familiar with. Try it: ask your driver or domestic help if he can point where Spratlys or Ayungin Shoal is.
OCTA’s poll question is like undertaking a poll asking, “Do you agree or not with the scientists’ consensus that global average temperature should not increase 1.5 Celsius to prevent the worsening effects of climate change?”
The OCTA poll is even worse, and violates basic principles of opinion surveys. It asked the question: “How much do you agree or disagree with the response of the current administration regarding the territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea between the Philippines and China?” That’s just like asking: “How much do you agree or disagree with the response the Marcos government in addressing increased prices of agricultural products? In both cases, “response” is a multifaceted set of actions, not just one action: “Do you agree that Marcos held the agricultural secretary post of 15 months”; “Do you agree he appointed a fishing magnate as agri secretary.”
Worse, while Filipinos would have direct experience involving this question, I don’t think many would even know where the West Philippine Sea is or what these “territorial disputes” are. The national security adviser as well as the military brass even wrongly claim that it is an issue of the Philippines exclusive rights to its EEZ, while China claims it is an issue of territorial sovereignty.
The OCTA survey asked a very general, vague question involving the “response” of the current administration to the dispute with China.
Do they agree with the Philippine Coast Guard’s silly attempts to out-maneuver Chinese ships to slip through and deliver supplies to the grounded BRP Sierra Madre? Do they agree to the government’s refusal to undertake bilateral talks to settle the dispute through negotiations? Do they agree with the government’s attempts to get the US to use its military might to settle the dispute?
Or was OCTA thinking that its respondents will simply answer based on what they have recently seen on TV just before the September 30-October 24 polls’ fieldwork; politicians and even the defense secretary wrongly claiming there is no question China is a bully, Philippine vessels shooed away from Ayungin Shoal by Chinese ships’ water cannons.
No wonder that there is such a significant percentage of respondents — 30 percent — answering that they “cannot agree or disagree.”
OCTA’s respondents actually would just have nodded their heads wondering what is being asked of them. The vagueness of the question explains why a huge 55 percent of respondents in Region 1 (Marcos’ Ilocos) and 98 percent in Region 2 (Cagayan Valley) reported they “cannot say if they agree or disagree” with Marcos’ response. How could results in one region — 67 percent agree in one area, the NCR (National Capital Region) — be so different from that in another region, 98 percent disagree in Region 2?
This should have alerted OCTA researchers that something was terribly wrong in their poll’s design.
OCTA, as SWS before it, is doing a big disservice to the country undertaking such flawed polls on the South China Sea issue that is in reality a propaganda thrust to justify the government’s very wrong belligerent stance on this issue.
The anti-Chinese little brown Americans will claim being bellicose against China is what the people want. The military brass will be so enthusiastic in complying with the “people’s sentiments” that they will be so reckless that they’d provoke an armed confrontation with China — in which the US will likely not get involved, as happened in the Scarborough Shoal stand-off that got Bengino Aquino 3rd to lose that territory.
God help us if the Americans decide to come to our succor. Such a move will most definitely lead to World War 3.
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