by ISAGANI DE CASTRO, JR.
Polling firm Pulse Asia has denied Malacañang's allegation of political bias when it released a survey last week on public skepticism of President Arroyo's State of the Nation Address (SONA) four days before she made her speech before the joint session of Congress.
In an interview with abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak, Ana Maria Tabunda, executive director of Pulse Asia, said it has been conducting and releasing surveys on public's perception on the truthfulness of President's SONA since 2005.
She wondered why it was only now that Malacañang criticized the group for being allegedly partisan in its SONA survey.
"We've been doing this since 2005," she said. "Why is it they did not react this way before?"
Tabunda said respondents had the choice whether to say they found Arroyo's SONA truthful, not truthful, or if they were undecided.
"If people find it truthful, we also print that. So where is the bias?" she said. "We are the messenger."
In previous years, Tabunda said the SONA surveys were also released before or during the day when the president delivers the SONA.
She said there was no political motive behind the release of Pulse Asia's SONA survey four days before Arroyo delivered her address.
Palace says it's biased
In a press conference Wednesday, Press Secretary Jesus Dureza said Pulse Asia sought to "embarrass" and "shame" the president when it disclosed in the run-up to the 8th SONA its survey which showed that only 14% of respondents believed the forthcoming SONA would be "truthful."
He was referring to the Pulse Asia survey released on July 24 on "Public Perceptions Regarding State of the Nation."
Out of the 60% of respondents who were aware of past SONAs, the survey results showed only 13% found Arroyo's past SONA's truthful while 46% said her past SONA's were "not truthful." Forty-one percent were undecided.
When asked whether they expected the July 28 SONA of Arroyo to be truthful, 14% said it would be truthful, 40% said it would not be truthful, and 46% were undecided.
The nationwide survey of 1,200 adults was conducted July 1 to 14. It had a margin of error of plus/minus 3 percent.
Dureza said it was unfair to ask people whether they thought the forthcoming SONA would be untruthful when Arroyo had not yet made her speech.
"I think it sought to embarrass the president or to shame the president at a time that she has not even given the SONA," he said.
"I question the methodology and the way the question was phrased," he added.
Dureza said Pulse Asia "became a political player" in this particular survey.
"The way it was done, it was not to reflect a public opinion. It had something else in its objective," he added.
Dureza called on the Marketing and Opinion Research Society of the Philippines (MORES), which he described as the "guardian of polling and statistics," to look into Pulse Asia's alleged bias. He said Pulse Asia was not a member of this association of market research professionals and poll organizations.
"I challenge the MORES, which is a respectable institution to look into a non-member because the non-member may be spreading wrong information, which would destroy the integrity of other polling institutions that are doing their job," he said.
"I challenge Pulse Asia to submit itself to scrutiny by the experts and to see how the questions were framed, the methodologies," he said.
Dureza urged media organizations to be "more critical" of these surveys since media are the "principal consumers" of such surveys. He also urged media to "go beyond the survey."
On Pulse Asia's July 1-14 Nationwide Survey on Quality of Life and State of the Economy released July 30, which showed 75% of respondents felt they were "worse now," Dureza said this "reflects...that we're in hard times."
He said Malacañang does not expect people to be happy in times of high oil and food prices.
Dureza said the president accepts that her popularity ratings are low due to unpopular decisions such as keeping the 12% Value-Added Tax on oil products.
He also said it was not fair to compare the ratings of Arroyo with former President Joseph Estrada since prices of oil then were around $80 per barrel or much lower than today's world oil prices of $148 per barrel. "Don't you think the dice is loaded?" he said.
In response to these claims, Tabunda said Pulse Asia is not a member of MORES, but its "data partner," TNS Trends, headed by its president, Mercy Abad, is a member of MORES.
TNS Trends does the field work for Pulse Asia as well as its rival polling group, Social Weather Stations.
Tabunda said Dureza cannot claim that the methodology of Pulse Asia's survey on the SONA is wrong but then accepts the findings of its Nationwide Survey on Quality of Life.
The July 1 to 14 survey uses the same methodology for the SONA questions and for the questions on quality of life. It is a "multistage probability sample of 1,200 adults 18 years old and over....using face-to-face interviews." It has a plus/minus 3 percentage points margin of error.
On Dureza's argument that it's not fair to compare the Estrada period to Arroyo's when oil prices have nearly doubled, Tabunda said the purpose of the survey is to track people's perception of the quality of life. Pulse Asia has no control over the events that influence this perception, she said.
"What you get there is the sense of how difficult things are right now. They can't even see it how it's going to be improving in the coming year. It gives you a sense of helplessness at the situation," she said.
She also said that the Nationwide Survey on Quality of Life does not mention any particular leader.
"Well, the question doesn't even mention the president. It's only asking them to compare the quality of life or uri ng pamumuhay ngayon sa nakaraang taon. And we have been asking these questions since 1999. And we had a different president back then."