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08:58 PM August 19th, 2011

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By: Mahar Mangahas, August 19th, 2011 08:58 PM

The Social Weather Stations finding of an 83 percent hopefulness of Filipinos for peace between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, as polled on June 3-6, 2011, and publicly reported this week through BusinessWorld, had been shared with Malacañang officials much earlier.

The 83 percent consisted of 38 percent feeling Very Hopeful (talagang umaasa) and 45 percent feeling Somewhat Hopeful (medyo umaasa) about peace between the parties.  I think the Aug. 4 meeting in Japan of President Noynoy Aquino and MILF chairman Al Haj Murad could not have dampened such high hopes.

The first notable thing is that such feelings are strongest in Mindanao, where an absolute majority of 59 percent are Very Hopeful about peace.  After all, it is the people of Mindanao who have the greatest stake in peace.

Secondly, hope is very strongly related to public satisfaction with the national administration’s performance in reconciliation with Muslim rebels.  Net satisfaction with such performance has been +29, +32 (Good) and +25 in the last three quarters.  These mostly high-Moderate ratings of the current administration are higher than all previous ratings in the times of Presidents Ramos, Estrada and Arroyo, which were mostly Neutral (single-digit), and occasionally Poor.

Polling for self-understanding. Opinion research has the role of giving the entire society, and groups within it, a better understanding of their cultural identities and where they stand on various issues.

Opinion research consistently finds that familiarity breeds, not contempt, but appreciation.  Christians living in Mindanao are more appreciative of Muslims, and Muslims living in Luzon are more appreciative of Christians.  The Aquino-Murad meeting was definitely pro-peace.  The current month of Ramadan is an excellent time to teach Christians more about Islam.

On the technical side, this calls for adequate sampling of Muslim Filipinos, to give them statistical visibility.  An ordinary random national sample of 1,000 normally obtains only 50-80 Muslims—too small for much analysis.

I strongly recommend that regular opinion polling be done in Mindanao, with separate strata for Muslims and Christians—emulating the way polls in Israel are regularly stratified for Jews and Arabs.  The technical expertise certainly exists in both state and private universities.  Local governments and local businesses should help to sponsor it.

What is most essential, however, is acceptance of the primacy of the views of the people.  Public opinion polling is an instrument of democracy, threatening to the interests of warlords and other authoritarians, Muslim or Christian.

Peace-process polling. Opinion polling in direct support of a peace process has been carefully used in a number of countries.  The World Association for Public Opinion Research is doing guidelines for peace polling, in cooperation with the world’s leading practitioner, Colin Irwin (www.peacepolls.org), author of “The Peace Process in Northern Ireland” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2002).

Dr. Irwin’s 2009 report, “Israel and Palestine: public opinion, public diplomacy and peace-making,” (www.OneVoiceMovement.org), says that, aside from Northern Ireland, Israel and Palestine, “[t]hese methods have been used with considerable success in Macedonia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Kosovo, Serbia, Kashmir and Sri Lanka. One of the key features of these methods is to ask the people living in and through a conflict what they believe are the problems that lay at the heart of their conflict, what the ‘solutions’ to these ‘problems’ might be and then to test these perceptions in both their own community and the society of their reported adversary.” [Emphasis mine]

In the case of the Mindanao peace process, supportive opinion polling would entail, in my view:

1. Dialogue with various peace panels and groups supporting the peace process, on the basic proposition that scientific polling of the views of Muslim-Filipinos on the one hand and Christian-Filipinos on the other hand, about the “problems” and the “solutions” to the conflict is a step in the right direction.

2. Strong participation of the various sides in the opinion polling design, so that there is agreement that “the right questions are being asked,” and “the polls are being done at the right time.”

3. Setting guidelines as to what results are to be published, and what are to be confidential, with an eye for simultaneously (a) moving the peace process forward rather than derailing it, and (b) maintaining public confidence in the opinion polls by means of their transparency.

4.  Development of opinion polling capacity at the local level, so that both Muslim and Christian communities in Mindanao can conduct polls themselves, in the long term if not immediately.

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A correction: Last week, the last two sentences were terse statements on connecting family planning to sexual promiscuity and non-payment of taxes as opposition to an RH bill.  They came from a preliminary file of my column, mistakenly sent to the Inquirer, but excluded from my final draft for lack of space for further discussion; the survey data on these matters is in the SWS Aug. 11 report.  My final draft actually concluded as follows (see www.sws.org.ph):

“In my opinion, passage of the RH bill enhances the freedom of the majority, without interfering with the rights of the minority, and ultimately promotes the well-being of the entire nation.”

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Contact SWS: www.sws.org.ph or mahar.mangahas@sws.org.ph.

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