Imagine you were among the lucky 1,200 randomly selected respondents in last month’s Pulse Asia survey on the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) controversy. Here’s one of the questions, asked verbally in English or Filipino:
“Recently, there was an issue regarding the alleged anomalous use of the PDAF. One Janet Lim Napoles is being accused of receiving P10 billion in 10 years from the PDAF of several senators and congressional representatives for fake non-government organizations or NGOs which were made to appear as implementors of agricultural programs. However, the true beneficiaries never received these funds.
“According to some lawmakers, the implementing agencies like the Department of Agriculture or DA as well as the agencies which released such funds – the Department of Budget and Management or DBM – were not careful in carrying out their duties. Meanwhile, several sectors are saying that a certain percentage of the PDAF of lawmakers go directly to them or to NGOs established by them and not to the target beneficiaries.
“When this issue first came out, the position of President Aquino was that there is no need to stop giving the PDAF to lawmakers. However, the President’s position changed and he declared that, ‘It is time to abolish the PDAF.’ He also said that this is to ‘search for the truth, and to hold accountable those who are responsible.’
“How much do you approve or disapprove of the response of President Aquino to the issue of the alleged anomalous use of the PDAF or pork barrel? Would you say that you truly approve, approve, disapprove, or truly disapprove of the response of President Aquino?”
Yes, that was the entire question, and one has to pity the polling boffins who had to read, repeat and explain all that to total strangers. Still, Pulse Asia’s diligence got its result: 63 percent of respondents said they approved or truly approved of President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s response to the pork barrel controversy. Another job well done.
Except it wasn’t. Read the question again, especially the part about Aquino’s supposed change in PDAF position. One gets the impression that he decided to abolish pork barrel in the remarks quoted from his speech on the Friday before the “Million Person March” at Rizal Park on August 26. In fact, the President stuck to his guns and kept the corruption-ridden fund, while promising reforms.
Pulse Asia’s question adopted hook, line and sinker Aquino’s line, “It’s time to abolish PDAF”, without mentioning that he, in fact, did not order its abolition — the demand of nearly half of respondents in the same survey. Rather than scrapping pork, the President told DBM Secretary Florencio Abad to work with Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. on “this [reform]mechanism, and to submit it for my approval as soon as possible.”
The proper and truthful question should have led with: “Despite demands to abolish PDAF, President Aquino did not ask for its removal in the 2014 budget, and instead he ordered reforms.” Since 45 percent of respondents want pork barrel out, while only 20 percent prefer just “stricter procedures,” there would have been no way for nearly two-thirds to agree with Aquino’s position to reform but retain PDAF.
Misrepresentations like the foregoing make avid survey watchers suspect that Pulse Asia, in which Aquino’s cousin Tonyboy Cojuangco is a major investor, favors the administration. They also stir doubts about another recent Pulse survey showing increased public approval and trust in the President, even as another poll done around the same time by Social Weather Stations (SWS) saw satisfaction ratings plummet amid the pork scandal.
SWS found that 68 percent were satisfied with Aquino’s performance in its September poll, down from 76 percent in June. By contrast, Pulse saw public approval jump to 79 percent, from 77 percent. No kidding.
Which poll truly reflects the public sentiment? Despite Pulse Asia’s 79 percent approval rating for Aquino, 67 percent believe PDAF abuses continued under him. And nearly a quarter think the President used pork barrel “to get the support of lawmakers.”
So why didn’t those negatives affect his overall rating? Simple: Since the approval survey and the pork barrel poll were both done in the same September 14-27 period, the question on Aquino’s PDAF response blunted negative sentiment over the controversy by making respondents think that he scrapped the fund.
Moreover, Pulse asked them to look over the past six years in assessing PDAF abuse, despite the difficulty of remembering that far back. By stipulating the 2007-2013 period, the survey ensured that adverse findings were not entirely ascribed to Aquino.
SWS demanded no feats of memory in its pork survey, which set no time frame. The poll showed about two-thirds of respondents seeing no benefit from PDAF, and 60 percent suspecting much corruption in projects, while 42 percent believed their legislators benefited from pork.
Since most legislators belong to the administration, SWS results suggest that many in the majority bloc of Congress are stained by the failings seen by respondents. Thus, if President Aquino truly wants to “search for the truth, and to hold accountable those who are responsible,” as quoted in the Pulse survey question, much of pork barrel investigations should cover his allies in Congress.
But they don’t. In fact, when Secretary Abad’s DBM turned over PDAF papers to the Commission on Audit for scrutiny, it confined them to the pre-Aquino years of 2007-09. In addition, the agency excluded documents covering P21 billion of the P29 billion total pork disbursements in those three years. Thus, COA ended up auditing mainly PDAF projects of opposition legislators.
A survey on this double standard may be good to do. Pulse, SWS, or both could ask respondents about the way Aquino handles irregularities involving allies and associates. To cut costs, the survey could pose just one question, less than half the length of the query on his PDAF response:
“In controversies involving Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje, Comelec Commissioner Grace Padaca, Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon, Environment Adviser Neric Acosta, Interior Undersecretary Rico Puno, Land Transportation Office head Virginia Torres, Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation Chairman Cristino Naguiat Jr., and the boards of Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, Social Security System, and Metropolitan Water and Sewerage System, President Aquino was quick to defend and reluctant to probe his appointees. Do you truly approve, approve, disapprove, or truly disapprove of his actions?”
Include that in the next approval survey, and let’s see if four out of five respondents will still cheer Aquino.