Soda, Sopa, SocaBy Mahar Mangahas
Philippine Daily Inquirer
It is relatively inexpensive—say 1 percent of the annual pork barrel—to do a scientific socioeconomic survey of a district, to aid a congressional representative in preparing an excellent Soda or State of the District Address. A bit of coordinated assistance by the congresspersons in a province could provide the provincial governor with good survey data from which to do an excellent Sopa or State of the Province Address.
For Quezon City where we are based, SWS is pleased to report having done surveys that enable Mayor Herbert Bautista to render an accurate Soca, or State of the City Address, whenever called for. As a guest at SWS two weeks ago, Mayor Bautista showed his keen awareness of the city government’s report card as graded by his constituents. He knows the passing subjects, and the subjects “needing improvement.” Having been conditioned by formal training in public administration at the University of the Philippines, he is a mayor who is equally open to good news and bad news, as long as they are scientifically grounded.
Perhaps Manila Mayor Erap Estrada and Makati Mayor Junjun Binay are also being aided by surveys about wellbeing and governance in their cities; I do not know for sure. Certainly, they are familiar with survey reportage; and the Pamantasan ng Maynila and the Pamantasan ng Makati, for instance, are quite capable of doing such research for them.
Local government units have no counterpart for the national statistical agencies that fortify a presidential Sona or State of the Nation Address, but that have no mandate to provide provincial, much less city, data on an annual basis. The national agencies’ occasional provincial data (as in the Philippine Human Development Report 2013, for example) are useful for a president’s geographical policy, rather than for a governor’s analysis of socioeconomic trends in his province over time.
Local governments deserve their own statistics (see my column “The Bangsamoro deserves statistics,” Inquirer, 10/13/2012). They should not depend on the national government for it. They should take the initiative.
Not only Metro Manila, but practically every province and major city, has at least one university or college capable of decent-quality social survey operations. Social surveying is relatively straightforward. It is not rocket science. Its critical ingredients are discipline and integrity.
In general, a local survey center is better-equipped to gather data relevant to local issues than one based in Metro Manila. It can readily design a questionnaire in the local language or languages (some provinces have more than one).
A survey unit attached to a local academic institution would not necessarily be a pure cost-center, but can be self-supporting from work that is increasingly being funded for planning and evaluation of public development projects.
A local government’s survey unit can choose its own sample size. What is better of the following two equal-cost options—getting data with a
4 percent error margin (sample size 650) once a year, or getting data with a 6 percent error margin (sample size 325) twice a year? Accuracy is tradable for timeliness. What is timely for national policy may not be timely for local policy.
A local survey center would base its agenda on local rather than national priorities. It would include local opinions on public issues, since opinion polling is hardly ever done by the national statistical agencies. How better than by scientific polling to find out the community’s views on human rights, reproductive health, divorce, gay marriage, disaster preparedness, pork barrel, etcetera?
The so-called “public consultation” is no substitute for anonymous opinion polling. Familiarization with opinion polls will teach local communities to recognize as charlatans those politicians who claim that a sample of a few hundred cannot possibly represent an electorate of several hundred thousand.
A smart politician doesn’t want his adversaries to be ahead in knowing the true state of public opinion. By using open/published polling rather than secret polling, he can let his constituents know that he knows, and understands, what they truly want. Free, open and informed public opinion is vital for democracy.
A local survey center has room for statistical innovation. It should not be shy about being ahead of other local government units in having its own types of surveys about economic deprivation. It should not hesitate to establish local norms for poverty and specific basic needs, even if different from norms in other areas.
Local survey centers should carefully archive and preserve their data in order to learn, first, what happened over time; and, gradually, to understand why it happened. Data that are “old” will nevertheless yield new knowledge, firstly by bringing in the time element, and secondly by being re-analyzed, in manners not thought of before. Survey data are like books that can be re-read for new lessons; a book’s lessons are not depletable like mineral deposits.
Within a local government area like a province, survey competition by different, independent, institutions should be encouraged. In particular, they should engage in election surveys every three years, and face the challenge of correctly predicting the winners and losers. A multiplicity of scientific surveys will result in convergence towards the truth. Unscientific surveys will be exposed, and die off naturally.
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