In surveys we trust


Ricardo Saludo

“DEMOCRACY,” quipped 19th-century American humorist Elbert Hubbard in his Roycroft Dictionary, is “a form of government by popular ignorance.” Judging from the hue and cry these days about populism, it seems levity has finally become stark reality, as the voters have stumped the experts.

Surveys, too, have a way of elevating popular dumbness to gospel truth. Take some recent poll results from Social Weather Stations.

Last week, SWS released its analysis of presidential performance surveys from the first Aquino presidency in 1986 to the second that ended in 2016. Its conclusion: Benigno Aquino 3rd was best rated among the five leaders, averaging +47 percent net satisfaction rating over his term, with Joseph Estrada (+15) and Fidel Ramos (+14) at second, and the two women, Corazon Aquino (+5) and Gloria Arroyo (-2), at the end.

Benigno Aquino 3rd (referred to as Aquino for the rest of this article) topped all category ratings as well, scoring +46 percent in helping the poor, +43 in foreign relations, +20 in fighting crime, and +15 in eradicating graft and corruption. While his +2 percent for fighting inflation seems low, all the others got double-digit negatives.

So how do these ratings stack up against reality? Do SWS respondents give ratings that match actual performance, or do they give thumbs up for unimpressive leadership, and thumbs down for good ones.

Best in fighting crime?
Looking at Aquino’s category grades, what quickly catches one’s eye is the net satisfaction rating for fighting crime. If he really did the best in curbing lawlessness, how did the nation end up with drug addiction in the millions, plus a crime rate triple the level when Aquino took over?

Based on hard data, not perception surveys, crime incidence in the country rose from 324,083 incidents in 2010 to more than a million a year in 2013 and 2014, as seen in the Philippine Statistics Authority data yearbooks.

And estimates of drug addiction range from 1 million and 3 million, with more than a million users and pushers surrendering since July. Yet fighting narcotics hardly figured, if at all, in Aquino’s State of the Nation Addresses, except when he lambasted the Bureau of Customs in 2013 for letting in smuggled drugs and guns.

Which brings us to another survey result that doesn’t seem to square with reality: +15 percent average net satisfaction rating for eradicating corruption.

What’s the reality? As this column recounted in the widely shared 2015 article, “Is Aquino corrupt?” < >, the immediate past administration saw some record figures in anomalies.

Smuggling trebled from $7.9 billion in 2009 to $26.6 billion in 2014, estimated from International Monetary Fund data by subtracting total imports recorded by the Bureau of Customs, from total exports to the Philippines reported by all our trading partners.

The unprecedented flood of contraband is affirmed by the disappearance of more than 2,500 cargo containers in 2011, the biggest surge of smuggling ever in the country — which Aquino never investigated. In fact, Malacañang even suspended a BoC deputy commissioner who blew the whistle when 600 boxes were lost.

Graft-ridden pork barrel outlays, which Aquino’s mother Corazon instituted decades ago, also hit all-time highs under him. From less than P9 billion in Arroyo’s last year, the Priority Development Assistance Fund trebled to more than P20 billion annually, starting with Aquino’s first budget in 2011.

He and his Congress allies tried to keep PDAF alive, despite mounting public opposition. Only the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in December 2013 to declare it unconstitutional finally buried pork barrel.

But not before it was used to bribe legislators during the impeachment of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez and the late Chief Justice Renato Corona, and the enactment of the Reproductive Health Act.

The biggest “Aquino-maly”, however, was another Congress-greasing fund: the P157-billion Disbursement Acceleration Program.

According to the 14 to 0 Supreme Court ruling in mid-2014 voiding it, Aquino and DAP’s architect, then-Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, allocated DAP funds to expenditures not in any budget.

As even a city hall janitor knows, no money may be spent without budget authority. Hence, DAP is the biggest malversation in Philippine and probably Asian history.

For all that, SWS respondents gave Aquino the highest rating for fighting sleaze.

In Uncle Sam we trust
Another recent survey that makes the well-informed shake their heads at public opinion is Pulse Asia’s poll on how Filipinos trust or distrust China, Japan, Russia, and the United States.

Conducted on December 6 to 11 last year, the poll showed high trust in America (76 percent) and Japan (70 percent), even though those countries invaded the Philippines at the cost of countless lives and with many atrocities committed against civilians.

By contrast, most respondents felt distrust toward China (61 percent), Russia (58 percent), and Great Britain (55 percent), though the first two had never attacked the Philippines, and the last one invaded two and a half centuries ago.

For sure, respondents make trust judgments based on recent actions, rather than historical ones. That would explain high distrust of China, for its incursions into waters and shoals claimed by the Philippines.

Still, lack of information can make people trust even those who may not have their interest at heart.

For instance, would you trust a nation that deliberately violates our territorial waters and even reports it to its legislature every year? Or brings forces in the country without ever saying if they violate our ban on nuclear weapons?

The United States Navy sails into our territorial sea more than a dozen times every year to show it does not accept the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea provision granting us territorial rights over the archipelagic waters between our islands.

And don’t bother asking Uncle Sam if those ships and planes coming in and now wanting to use five of our bases, have nukes which could hit China and would therefore be targeted in a war, as President Duterte recently warned.

That’s the America we — or at least, most of 1,200 randomly chosen respondents — trust.

That’s why we shouldn’t trust surveys.


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  1. I actually found the survey regarding the world powers’ somewhat suspicious! What I observe on the ground is that Japan seems to be far more popular these days among Filipinos than the USA. I hear far less negative comments against Japan than against the USA both online and from people I know nowadays. There’s a reason why EVERY major political faction considers the Japanese a worthy partner. Anyway, if the Filipino people were really that pro-America in the first place, there would be no way Duterte would become President of our country in the first place, as he has hardly bothered hiding his disdain for the USA and its government even during the election campaign season last year.

    And how on earth can the UK rank so low, despite being America’s mother (and arguably its biggest ally)? This is despite giving us so many things we love/take for granted like the English language (via her daughter America), Shakespeare, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the James Bond films, the entire Harry Potter franchise, so many present-day Hollywood stars, the sport of football, and the list goes on! Something is seriously wrong with this survey!

    Anyway, I can just about guarantee if you limited the survey to those who have travelled extensively abroad or dealt with so many kinds of foreigners, the results will look rather different!

  2. So who has the right to claim the final truth and reality?

    The media is failing to sell its stories, the surveys are known for what they are, another form of projecting lies as “scientific truth”. But really no one is more right and true than anybody wants its to be.

    The media-coined term “populist” is made to sound as the thinking of ignorant and morons, but better term might be – “the awakened” or enlightened”.

  3. Indeed, what the masses of common tao, not just the intelligentia, need is critically prepared info on events and issues. Ours is a society which relies much on hearsay and ala-tele-novella accounts that verge on tismis. Where citizens stack away books and well researched collections in closets and bins and, instead, rely on TV shows and TMs, expect imbecile reactions, much less intelligent responses, to surveys. Unfortunately, many tend to draw conclusions based on such as SWS surveys, to name one.

  4. Massage the numbers enough and you can produce whatever you wish the numbers to say. Pretty obvious of late that SWS has been bending over backward to present another version of history.

    It’s one thing to report the results of a survey. At that point in time, this is the perception of a sample of the population. The only danger is how the survey questions are written to introduce bias.

    It is another thing to try mine data of survey results. It isn’t hard to distort historical trends to support a particular point of view by cherry picking your time periods for conducting surveys or for aggregating survey results in unusual ways. Seems to be a lot of this kind of survey results recently. When this starts to happen, even the Family Feud is more credible when their surveys says …

  5. These are, of course, opinion surveys. But maybe this article demonstrates why we should put more trust in them than in the opinion of newspaper columnists.

    • Yes, agree.
      And let us all remember, opinion surveys approximate the pulse of the nation, not the truths of the events.
      The opinion of the people of their leaders, most of the time, contradicts the true colors of these leaders. Let us not rationalize this big difference.