OP ED COLUMN: OPINION ON PAGE ONE- Time to junk all pre-election surveys– By Francisco S. Tatad

OPINION ON PAGE ONE

FRANCISCO S. TATAD

FRAUDULENT political surveys are back, although they have really never been out, and mass deception appears to be the only currency whose value seems to appreciate, whether against the stronger US dollar or the rapidly declining Philippine peso.

It is the surest sign that national elections are indeed just around the corner, even though no one can say why anyone should expect them to be any more honest and transparent than the last ones since 2010. There has been no effort to purge the process of the polluting effects of Smartmatic and all our corrupt practices.

A wishful survey

On Sunday, the national broadsheets ran identical banner headlines announcing the alleged results of an alleged survey by Pulse (some people read False) Asia of preferred senatorial choices for May 2019. It gave high marks to Sen. Grace Poe, Sen. Cynthia Villar, former senator Pia Cayetano, Sen. Nancy Binay, Mayor Sara Duterte, Sen. Sonny Angara, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, Gov. Imee Marcos, Sen. Koko Pimentel, former senator Lito Lapid, former Sen. Serge Osmeña, and former presidential candidate Mar Roxas. None of them is a senatorial candidate yet.

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Many welcomed the story, not necessarily because they believed it was true, but only because the list of alleged favored senatorial choices failed to include the names of presidential special assistant and photobomber Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, whom the President has identified as a billionaire, whose family is reported to have cornered the lion’s share of all the infrastructure contracts in Mindanao and whose tarp is prominently displayed all over the country; former PNP chief Ronald ‘Bato” de la Rosa, who apparently did not become poor by doing “Operation Tokhang” for two years;  sexy dancer Mocha Uson of the “pepe-dede-ralism” fame; and presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr.

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At once many of the “select 12” tended to levitate to astral heights after being described as “probable winners” by some over-enthusiastic mediamen even before the contest had begun and before they formally became contestants. But Grace Poe had the good sense to point out that their so-called survey ratings, which I hope she has not inhaled, were not as important as the rate of inflation, the degraded value of the peso, the rising unemployment, the skyrocketing fuel prices, and the massive destruction caused by super-typhoon Ompong. At this writing, the peso had sunk to P54.24 to the US dollar, said to be its lowest since its P54.30 finish on November 24, 2005.

Who paid for the survey?

Now, why was this alleged survey conducted?  Who ordered it? Who paid for it? (Remember, there is no such thing as a free lunch.)  How were the “samples” (the interviewees) chosen? How did they pick their so-called senatorial choices?  Were they “guided” or not? Meaning, did Pulse Asia have a prepared list, or did the “samples” draw up their own? If there was a prepared list, what was Pulse Asia’s basis in listing any particular name? If the “samples” drew up their own list, how long did it take them to do so? Days or hours?

The effort to manipulate public perception is obvious. If all of those appearing on the list were sitting senators, who may be presumed to be interested in running for re-election in 2019, or if they were all active political personalities who had widely been reported to be interested in running for the Senate, then there might be some legitimate reason to test their public acceptability in an alleged survey like this one. But this is not the case.

Pollsters choices

The Pulse Asia list includes personalities who have not, for sometime, had any active political public presence. It is therefore not easy to explain how all of a sudden the public could be made to start looking at them as preferred senatorial choices. Among them, one former senator had left the Senate after two consecutive terms, without inspiring anyone after him to propose that every senator should employ someone to translate into the vernacular all floor or committee deliberations in the English language. There is no sign that the gallery missed the presence of this particular senator, but behold, his name appears as one of Pulse Asia’s preferred choices.

That is not all. At least one sitting senator is to be termed out by June 30, 2019, and will be ineligible to run again for the same position. But he is also one of the preferred choices. Under the Constitution, “no senator shall serve for more than two consecutive terms. Voluntary renunciation of the office for any length of time shall not be considered as an interruption in the continuity of his service for the full term for which he was elected.”

Many have interpreted this provision to mean that a senator shall cease holding office after two consecutive terms, but that he may run again after one election. “One election” has never been legally defined. Some are of the view that since a senator’s term is six years, one who has been termed out should wait for at least six years before running again for the same office. But many termed-out senators have returned to the Senate after only three years. It may or may not be too late to challenge that interpretation, but so far no one has dared.

One’s curiosity is provoked about such names as former actor/senator Lito Lapid, former senator Serge Osmeña, and defeated presidential candidate Mar Roxas. They have not been an active part of the political conversation on vital national issues since 2016. How did their names bolt out of the blue to become preferred senatorial choices? This is not to say that they have lesser rights than anybody else to run for the Senate, if they are in fact interested, but I just cannot see how, from their previous self-imposed state of political non-involvement, they could suddenly spring to life as favored senatorial choices, without first declaring their active interest…
This tends to give the game away.

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Pimentel can’t even run

Better than this is the case of former Senate President Koko Pimentel. His inclusion in the list robs the alleged survey of all credibility. To use Solicitor General Jose Calida’s ponderous phrase, Koko’s proposed running is “null and void ab initio.” His second term expires on June 30, 2019, and he would be a total lameduck by May.

As a lawyer, who has the distinction of topping the bar examinations at least once, he should know this better than anybody else. Although he initially lost his first senatorial bid in 2007 when he placed 13th after the 12th placer, Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, he subsequently won it in August 2011, after Zubiri resigned over Koko’s insistent lament that his colleague from Mindanao had cheated him of his seat. He then served Zubiri’s unexpired term until he ran for re-election in 2013.

The Pulse Asia survey is an extremely premature effort to shape the May 14, 2019 electoral results very much ahead of election day. Fraudulent political surveys have been used before to instruct the cheating machine to do its worst on that day. But for the first time, it is being done even before the names of the official candidates are known to anybody. In 2013, B.S. Aquino 3rd had his 60/30/10 operation in favor of his handpicked senatorial candidates. That did not help anyone, not the Senate, not PNoy, not anybody. Now, whoever is in charge of the new operation seems resolved to outdo B.S. 3rd. But there’s always the danger of outsmarting oneself while trying to outsmart the rest of the country. This is what has clearly happened in the alleged survey.

Happy about the killings?

But the propaganda fraudsters seem determined to rule the propaganda waves. Another alleged survey, said to have been conducted by Mahar Mangahas’ Social Weather Stations, has been reported as saying 78 percent of Filipinos (more accurately, 78 percent of those “surveyed,” if the results were correctly recorded) are satisfied with President Duterte’s drug war, which is reported to have killed not less than 25,000 without due process, brought DU30 in confrontation with international human rights organizations, foreign dignitaries and all sorts of human rights activists. There is no good reason to trust any survey that asks people whether or not they approve of the drug killings, or of DU30 himself.

Like it or not, the killing has become an instrument of state policy. It has produced a killing machine, which has been used to terrorize not only criminals, who are not easily terrorized, but innocent and law-abiding citizens who do not need to put their lives in harm’s way. They know the killings are not fake news, but real. They have seen or heard about some drug suspects killed by the police or vigilantes, they have read about the priests who had been killed on their way to or from the altar, they have heard the President say, “I will kill you,” and later learned about the victims getting killed after being warned.

How many of these people, do you think, will have the courage to declare in an open or secret SWS interview that they do not approve of the killings, or that they have serious reservations about DU30? We will have to see DU30 out of Malacañang first before we can have an honest and credible opinion survey on his drug war or any of his murderous policies. But we will have to criminalize fraudulent opinion polling first before we see the last of these propaganda fraudsters who use every election to make millions for themselves while manufacturing public opinion to suit their political fantasies.

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Time to ban surveys

Some countries in the world ban opinion surveys during an election campaign to protect the voters from fraudulent and venal manipulation. As a senator I tried to introduce this prohibition, precisely to protect the public from the propaganda fraudsters. However, the proposal was killed in committee because of the chairman’s strong view that it would violate freedom of expression. It is now clear that was an unfortunate mistake. It is time to revisit the issue, and ban all pre-election surveys that seek to manipulate political reality and the perception of the voters.

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