Atienza tells OCTA Research to stop releasing statements on pandemic, 2022 polls

Published September 6, 2021, 5:17 PM

by Hannah Torregoza 

House Deputy Speaker Lito Atienza on Monday called for the filing of a resolution that would eventually stop the OCTA Research Group from making pronouncements related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the May 2022 national elections.

Rep. Lito ATienza

Atienza said he doubts that the OCTA Research Group has been effective in releasing accurate data about the COVID-19 in the first place, and its conduct of a political survey at a time of a pandemic is also highly questionable.

“I’m no longer asking you on your other surveys, I’m questioning you on your political surveys. Because you know very well, that after sowing fear in the hearts of the people. You suddenly say somebody should win in the elections,” Atienza told Ranjit Rye, OCTA founder and assistant professor of political science during the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability.

“So I will urge all my colleagues, let’s pass immediately. I’m willing to sign it immediately. Let’s sign a resolution not allowing or at least condemning this malpractice of somebody positioning itself in the face of a pandemic and projecting political developments in the country which influence a lot of people,” the lawmaker added.

Lawmakers at the House of Representatives have questioned OCTA’s research methodology on COVID-19 and has called for a public hearing that would ascertain its credentials and background.

But the self-proclaimed independent research group earned flak and raised doubts after releasing a political survey showing Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio and her father, President Rodrigo Duterte topping its presidential survey for the May, 2022 national elections.

Rye defended the OCTA saying that research group has two research components—one is dealing with COVID research, while the other is dealing with public opinion research.

“In our public opinion research, we have been providing the public the outputs of our surveys since January po of this year, there’s no problem with that,” Rye pointed out, also insisting that such research is important for the country’s democracy, governance and the battle against COVID-19.

However, Atienza maintained OCTA Research is not a political research group, saying they entered the field as a medical research group “speaking out of their own findings, own opinions, their own analysis.”

Because of this, Atienza said he fears that OCTA’s political surveys would carry a lot of weight much more than the Social Weather Station (SWS) or Pulse Asia’s studies since these two social research firms are not involved with the COVID-19 pandemic, while OCTA is coming from “its own stage as a medical group.”

“You are at the forefront and you are taking advantage of your position to now influence the elections in 2022. And so we request you refrain from making political pronouncements and if you would want to join the political fray, I believe that’s your right. But do not blend your so-called commitment to medical advantages for the people while at the same, inserting your political views,” he said.

Rep. Michael Aglipay, committee chairman, agreed with Atienza, and told OCTA Research to do away with making commentaries or statements that could be misconstrued as an official stand of the government.

“Less commentary, less mistakes… let the public interpret the data with their analysis of the data because sabi nga, with great power comes great responsibility. Your group is already a powerful group,” Aglipay said.

Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) President Sergio Ortiz Luis, Jr., who was present at the hearing, early on told lawmakers that even the business community have become wary of the OCTA’s COVID-19 predictions and recommendations as they have increasingly sown fear and panic to the public.

“My first awareness of OCTA was from their interviews talking about COVID-19 with the UP (University of the Philippines) building as backdrop. At that time last year, I was even glad that there seems to be a group that seems to be filling up the information gap on COVID-19 which DOH somehow abdicated to them,” Luis told the committee.

“Even the DOH secretary have welcomed OCTA’s work as an independent body that can complement DOH information dissemination efforts. To a certain degree, I appreciated that OCTA was able to project certain trends, of course, I assumed based on data they got it from the DOH,” he said.

“Until a number of businessmen started to raise a number of concerns that OCTA was not only sharing trends, but was also making predictions and recommendations that were sowing fear and panic to the public,” Luis added.

The ECOP president pointed out that the group even went to the extent of threatening the DOH of huge repercussions should they refuse to listen to their recommendation of a lockdown.

“Who gave OCTA the responsibility and mandate as they claimed? UP eventually has no choice but to officially deny their connection with them. And this brings the question, what is their purpose that they have banded together?” Luis pointed out.

Atienza echoed the ECOP’s sentiment saying that he has never heard of any positive report coming from OCTA and their predictions have nothing but “very negative, and fearful predictions” from the beginning.

“I’d like to clarify also for myself, ano ba talaga ang personality, authority, accountability ng OCTA? And I heard it from the two of you, at least 10 times you claim that you are a UP (related) institution. And I have checked with UP, you are not a UP Institution. You are a private entity,” Atienza stressed.