The paid propaganda fraudsters are at it again, trying to hijack the 2016 presidential nominating process. This process used to be the business of accredited political parties, which held national conventions to nominate official candidates in any election. We copied this practice from the United States, which continues to pick its presidential candidates through its party nominating conventions. But we have long abandoned the practice and replaced it with something completely ignoble.
The last time we had something mildly respectable was in 1986 when the National Unification Committee, chaired by the late former Sen. Francisco “Soc” Rodrigo, chose Cory Aquino to run against President Ferdinand Marcos in the snap presidential elections. Since then, in the phenomenon now imitated in Africa as the “Filipinization of national politics,” our presidential candidates are all self-nominated.
Those who own political parties simply proclaim themselves as presidential candidates. The crazier guys announce themselves as vice-presidential candidates, without having been chosen by a presidential candidate.
This is supported by propaganda pollsters, who pull statistical numbers out of their hats, which the media then uncritically regurgitate and spread. The publication of unquestioned and unexamined “survey results” is the actual beginning of the nominating process. Who decides which politicians would be included in these “surveys”? The pollsters obviously, after some pecuniary arrangements.
Two polling firms
There are two well-known local survey firms in the country’s overcrowded polling field. One is Pulse Asia, which some people like to call “False Asia”; the other is Social Weather Station (SWS) under Dr. Mahar Mangahas, whom some people like to call “Mahal Mang-ahas.” They do not always report the same findings on the same subject. Nor do their alleged findings always correspond with people’s articulated perception of the issues.
Sometimes, their findings represent the exact opposite of the truth. In the infamous EXIT POLL of 2004 in Metro Manila sponsored by ABS-CBN, Mangahas had President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo leading Fernando Poe Jr. in Metro Manila, while the Quick Count, also sponsored by ABS-CBN, showed the exact opposite. In a more civilized country, this would have driven Mangahas out of business, but not here. Our tolerance for dishonesty, corruption and incompetence seems to be rather high, especially for the fair-skinned and foreign educated.
Which polling firm do you believe?
But now we are once again being run by all these “surveys.” A competent and non-mercenary third party should perhaps first run a large survey, with 1400 samples per region, to determine how many people actually believe Pulse Asia on anything, and how many believe SWS. Which of the two is less widely believed?
Personal with Mangahas
My own experience with Mangahas has permanently colored my impression about the polling propagandist. I had the greatest respect for his late father, whom I considered a great press secretary and patriot; but I have not been able to look at Mahar Mangahas with enough respect. This has to do with what he tried to do with my own career in the Senate.
My first senatorial run was in 1987. After supporting Cory in the snap election against Marcos in 1986, I found myself running with 23 others, mostly former Cory supporters, under Grand Alliance for Democracy (GAD). This was the party organized by the industrialist-banker Vicente “Teng” Puyat, who had earlier brokered the Cory Aquino-Doy Laurel partnership against Marcos in 1986. Our venture ended in a complete rout.
Coping with fraud
Out of the nine to ten of us who should have won, according to the most rational academic studies, only the former movie actor and future president Joseph Ejercito Estrada and Juan Ponce Enrile, the leader of the EDSA revolt that had catapulted Cory to Malacañang, made it. Unbeatable candidates like the legendary Arturo Tolentino lost, while the most obscure Cory candidate won. In Mindanao, 20 or so of Cory’s candidates managed to top 20 or so provinces, each candidate topping a particular province, which never happened before or since, in any national election. And many of the winning candidates got more votes than the total number of actual voters in certain places.
I ended being tear-gassed at EDSA while leading the election protest.
In 1992, I was persuaded to run again, to help fill up Danding Cojuangco’s 24-man senatorial ticket. I waged a pro-life, pro-family campaign, which drew nationwide popular support. In the first few hours of the canvassing, the results coming out at the La Salle Greenhills operations center showed me among the frontrunners. But then the power went out. When it returned, I found myself outside the winning slate. Alarmed by this development, I sought outside help. I found a young techie who happened to know some of those manning the computers.
I told him that in 1987 I made the mistake of leaving EDSA after being tear-gassed; this time, I said, if I returned to EDSA, I would leave it as a corpse. He promised to help. After that, I reentered the winning slate, ultimately polling more votes than Cory’s brother-in-law, my friend Butch Aquino, who had placed next only to Jovy Salonga, the topnotcher in the 1987 elections. I could no longer recover the votes I had lost, but my young friend was able to protect the rest of my votes, securing for me a term of three years.
First meeting with the medicine man
A little before the opening of the first session of the 1992 Senate, Sen. Edgardo Angara organized some kind of workshop for the new senators in Tagaytay, obviously to help acquaint them with the work of the Senate. From out of the blue appeared Dr. Mangahas to make a presentation on the alleged results of his SWS surveys. The most manipulative of these turned out to be an alleged survey, which claimed that if a newly elected senator did not support the family planning program of the government, HE WOULD NOT BE REELECTED, when he runs again for office.
I found that an outrage. We had not even warmed our seats as senators yet, and he was already threatening us with non-election, three or six years later, if we did not abandon our convictions and support his own advocacy. He was like a medicine man trying to scare ignorant Indians on what could happen to them if they did not follow what he said.
This was how scientific and professional Dr. Mangahas was. Then, turning to me, he said, “You see, Mr. Tatad, there is no such thing as a Catholic vote.” And he had the arrogance to try to prevent me from making a response. I had to tell him that he was a mere guest, a nobody in that workshop, and that he had no right to try to prevent me from making a statement, especially after he had referred to me by name.
I told him that in a Catholic country where most candidates are Catholic, there is no such thing as a Catholic vote. And there would be no need for it. But if you field a candidate whose declared purpose is to destroy the Catholic Church or certain Catholic practices, then you would surely generate a Catholic vote against that candidate.
In any case, it became very clear to everyone of sufficient intelligence in that room that Mangahas was trying to bully me for my strong position on human life and family issues. This would manifest itself with greater clarity and vigor in later years, especially during the public controversy on Reproductive Health. Mangahas and his SWS played a major role in pushing the RH Law, by coming out with alleged surveys showing supposedly massive support for it, despite the overwhelming public opposition to it.
The RH fiasco
Congress passed this law only after President B. S. Aquino 3rd bribed its members with pork barrel funds to honor his commitment to then US State Secretary Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama, who had gifted him $454 million from the Millennium Challenge Fund, apparently to ease its passage. Despite its patent unconstitutionality, the Supreme Court declared it “not unconstitutional” after it refused to engage the fundamental objection I had raised during the Oral Arguments in Court, namely, that the State cannot be the constitutional protector of the life of the unborn from conception, and of the process of conception itself, while simultaneously being the source of contraception through an RH law.
A continuing advocacy
Mangahas’s anti-family advocacy continues, as shown by the alleged SWS survey claiming strong support for divorce, without revealing the basic data about the alleged survey. This absolute absence of transparency has been the basic flaw in all these surveys. In the US, Europe and many other countries, the survey firm provides the media with all data relevant to the survey before its results are published. These are some of the usual questions:
Who commissioned and paid for the survey? Why was it done? Who actually did it? When was it done? How many people (samples) were interviewed? How were they chosen? How were they interviewed (face to face, or by telephone or other means)? What were the questions asked? In what sequence were they asked? What is the margin of error used? In the Philippines, these are well-kept secrets. Our only role is to believe what we read.
A crazy court ruling
In the last elections, the polling firms were asked to reveal the names of politicians who were wholly or partially funding the surveys and providing all or some of the questions being asked in the surveys. The survey firms resisted this demand, saying everything was secret. And in one of its crazier moments, the Court upheld the illegal position of the survey firms.
Crazy and illegal, because every centavo that a candidate spends on his campaign is supposed to be reported faithfully to the Commission on Elections. So severe is this law that a winning candidate may be disqualified for overspending, as was the popularly elected Governor E. R. Ejercito of Laguna province. At the same time, the survey firms, like every other business firm, are taxed on all their incomes. Now, if the Court says their income from politicians is confidential, then they have a legal cover for hiding such income.
The High Court needs to revisit this ruling, if only to promote greater transparency and credibility among pollsters. This should be done now rather than later, if we are going to have another election.
Pollsters should never rate the popularity of the Courts
While we are on the subject of the Courts and the survey firms, I would call their attention to the current practice of rating the popularity and trustworthiness of the Courts. I think this is wrong. In no other country in the world is it done. The Courts must rule always according to the law, regardless of whether or not their rulings are popular. They should never be drawn into the popularity game. Once the Courts get drawn in, the rule of law and the administration of justice might suffer. The High Court must unilaterally prohibit this now, or else a civic-minded lawyer should ask for this ruling.
To go back to where we started, we cannot and should not allow the paid propaganda pollsters to usurp the political nominating process in our elections. They cannot and should not be allowed to poll for public consumption the “electability” of individuals who are not even candidates yet, in an election where official candidacies are announced, according to some provisions of law and official timelines. Polling the electability of non-candidates as though they were candidates is grossly misleading, and a great disservice to the nation.
One honest-to-goodness survey
If the pollsters would like to perform a genuine service, they could run a survey in which they could ask the following question:
Do you believe we should first clean up the automated voting system before we hold the next election? Do you believe the Commission on Elections could still be reformed in order to conduct clean and honest elections?
Or, if you want to know what our people are really looking for now and in the future, the pollsters could run a survey in which they could ask the following question:
What changes do you expect, both for yourself and for our people, from the next election? Do you believe real changes can happen by just electing a new president? Or are radical and revolutionary changes needed to transform the nation?