Probing OCTA and other polling firms

Probing OCTA and other polling firms"They should be made to explain their methodology."



Last year, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, out of nowhere, OCTA Research (or UP OCTA Research as it was referred to then) suddenly hit the headlines as it released its projections on local cases of the dreaded virus. I even recall presidential spokesman Harry Roque bragging one time that the country was able to beat the UP OCTA Research projection as we did not reach the independent monitoring group’s projection of the number of cases for that particular month.

As early as that, it was very clear that OCTA’s projections were a sometimes hit, sometimes miss prognosis of contagion.

The research group has not been spared from online criticism, with a number of netizens accusing it of “fear mongering.” Even the Department of Health and a member of the government’s Technical Advisory Group on COVID-19 has advised the group to “apply circumspection in making pandemic-related statements, in order to minimize public panic.”  

This was after the independent monitoring group was slammed as being alarmist for calling on the national government to declare a circuit breaker lockdown as it projected the COVID-19 cases to hit 10,000 daily. Fortunately for us, the projection was again a miss as the daily cases still hover in the vicinity of 6,000, which has been the case for the past two month or three months already.

With their hit-and-miss projections which have been used by the media since last year, five lawmakers yesterday sought a congressional inquiry into the “qualifications, research methodologies, partnerships and composition” of OCTA Research.

The lawmakers, Deputy Speakers Bernadette Herrera, Reps. Kristine Singson-Meehan, Sharon Garin; Jesus “Bong” Suntay; and Deputy Minority Leader Stella Luz Quimbo called on the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability to conduct an inquiry in aid of legislation, to ascertain the credentials and background of the research group.

“There is a public health and public policy need to ensure the safety and security of the population during this pandemic, and that information being distributed is correct and not irresponsibly and erroneously published,” the lawmakers pointed out in the resolution. 

But more importantly, the lawmakers want the House panel to also zero in on the supposed “connection between OCTA Research and the University of the Philippines System, as the former publicized a partnership which the latter seemingly denied.”

Previous infographics and press releases across press outlets and social media platforms refer to the “University of the Philippines-OCTA” group (UP-OCTA) or the “UP-OCTA Research Team” in predicting surges of COVID-19 cases. Moreover, OCTA Research fellow Professor Ranjit Rye has been quoted to refer to the group as the “UP-OCTA Research Team.” This, however, was vehemently refuted by UP-Diliman Associate Professor Peter Cayton who was quoted in one news report that there is no office within the campus named OCTA, and that it does “not exist in UP’s organizational structure.”

And maybe, while the House is at it, they could also probe OCTA Research’s methodology in their political survey, along with those of other polling firms.

Having gained propaganda mileage in their COVID-19 projections, OCTA Research has ventured into political surveys, which anyway, is part of its thrust, as based on its website.

On their website, OCTA describes itself as a “polling, research and consultation firm” that provides “comprehensive, holistic, accurate, rigorous, and insightful data analysis to help our clients in government, the private sector and the NGO community.”

It further indicates that OCTA specializes in public opinion research, qualitative and quantitative research, policy research and advocacy, and training and capacity building.

Last January, OCTA released the results of its survey showing Manila Mayor Isko Moreno as the preferred presidential bet in the National Capital Region. A few days ago, it again released the results of its latest survey showing Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte a clear winner for president should the elections be held today.

Interestingly, both survey results mirror the results of Pulse Asia.

Does this then validate the survey results of Pulse Asia? Not necessarily. In fact, this could even give rise to suspicions survey results are being doctored through the methodology employed by these polling firms.

Some years back, when I was still writing for another paper, I wrote on Pulse Asia’s method of choosing their respondents for their surveys, which was shared to me by a source close to then-Metro Manila Development Authority chair Bayani Fernando on behalf of the MMDA, who was a subscriber to the Pulse Asia’s survey that time.

Pulse Asia is obliged to make a presentation before Fernando, a subscriber, every time it releases the results of its survey.

During a presentation, Fernando was reportedly told that only one percent of its respondents voted for him, prompting the ex-MMDA chair to question the result citing the more than 200,000 voters from Marikina whom he claims are all supportive of him.

At that juncture, Pulse Asia’s president, Ronald Holmes, and board director Anna Marie Tabunda, who made the presentation, allegedly admitted before Fernando and the ex-MMDA’s chief of staff, Rolly Josef and political officer, Noli Aldip, that they were using pre-determined respondents, and not randomly selected as what the people were made to believe.

When asked what they do when the predetermined respondent is out at the time the survey is conducted, Tabunda was said to have answered they have another set of predetermined respondents to take the place of those who are indisposed at the time the survey is conducted.

Asked further if they use the same predetermined respondents in all of their surveys, Tabunda reportedly answered affirmatively.

So, that could explain why the changes in the results of Pulse Asia’s surveys are so minimal, falling slightly on some occasions.

Also, it was then bared that Pulse Asia and SWS reportedly maintain interlocking directorship in the persons of Mercy Abad and Jose “Ping” de Jesus, a former cabinet secretary of the late President Cory Aquino, and the late President Noynoy Aquino’s former secretary for Transportation and Communication.

This interlocking of directorship of the two firms, the source said, could then explain why the survey results of SWS and Pulse Asia do not vary much in terms of figures.

Now, while SWS has yet to release results of any survey it had conducted if it has, it’s now OCTA Research which appears to mirror survey results of another polling firm.

Do they share the same set of interlocking directors, or do they share the same respondents?

Maybe the House panel should also investigate not only on the methodology being employed by OCTA Research in its projection in the number of COVID-19 cases, but also on the methodology it is employing on their political surveys, as well as those of the other polling firms including Pulse Asia and another one, the RP-Mission and Development Foundation Inc.  

I’m not saying they are faking the results of their surveys. But I believe it is about time they are made to explain their methodology and validate the results of their own surveys.

It seems that the “hao siao” polling firms are increasing in number.

Topics: COVID-19 pandemic , OCTA Research , Department of Health
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