Tuesday, October 23, 2018
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Social Climate

Freedom to dissent persists

/ 05:14 AM September 09, 2017

Last week I pointed out that the Duterte administration appeared to have strong public support in June, and that in July and August there were no SWS surveys to gauge whether, and if so by how much, the support changed afterward (see “Heed the survey dates,” Opinion, 9/2/17).

But given the administration’s well-known insistence on the bloody approach for treating the problem of illegal drugs, how much faith can be placed in the survey of June? Would many survey respondents have been too afraid to candidly criticize the administration? A straightforward way of finding out is by simply asking them.


Surveys have probed into the feeling of freedom to dissent. Ever since 1985, SWS has conducted 38 national surveys asking for agreement or disagreement to this statement: “I can say anything I want, openly and without fear, even if it is against the administration” (“Nasasabi ko nang hayagan at walang takot ang lahat nang gusto kong sabihin, kahit na ito ay laban sa administrasyon”).

In July 1985, when this probe was first done, the national agreement was only 33 percent. Only one of every three Filipinos felt free to contradict the Marcos administration. The national disagreement was 29 percent. The undecided 37 percent were actually the plurality. It was the worst state of the feeling of freedom to dissent ever recorded.


By the next probe of May 1986, after democracy had been restored, those feeling free to dissent were a majority 58 percent. In 8 surveys in the time of Corazon Aquino, the average feeling free was 54 percent. The peak of freedom was 74 percent, in March 1987, right after the ratification of the new Constitution.

The average feeling free to dissent was 58 percent in 3 surveys in the time of Fidel Ramos, 60 percent in 8 surveys under Joseph Estrada, 55 percent in 9 surveys under Gloria Arroyo, and 55 percent in 6 surveys under Benigno Aquino III. In almost all surveys, the outright denials of feeling free to dissent were fewer than the undecided.

In the latest Social Weather Survey of June 2017, 53 percent agreed, 20 percent disagreed, and 27 percent were undecided about their freedom to dissent. In 3 probes under Rodrigo Duterte so far, the average agreement is 54 percent, and the average disagreement is 21 percent—the majority feel free, and one out of five feels afraid. (Women are always more fearful than men, by the way.)

For three decades now, Filipinos feeling free to disagree with the current regime have steadily dominated those feeling afraid to do so. The free have consistently outnumbered the fearful by more than two to one.

The cooperation of survey respondents has not slackened. Their cooperation is elicited by field interviewers who are socially and politically neutral, and treat them with respect. The answers to their questions carry neither penalty nor reward. Any honest answer is acceptable. Respondent-anonymity is guaranteed.

After the interview, respondents are shown 12 facial emojis or “smileys” and asked which one best expresses the experience. Here are percentages of emojis (as described by me) after the June 2017 interviews: smile of relief, 36; toothy smiley, 29; standard smiley, 20; smiley with hearts, 4.6; cynical, 2.2; frowning, 1.8; neutral, 1.6: bored, 1.4; big-eyed smiley, 1.1; tired, 1.0; angry, 0.7; and totally exhausted, 0.3.

The very great majority are pleased to have participated. They feel lucky to have been chosen, and given the opportunity to share their situations and opinions with their fellow Filipinos.


Contact mahar.mangahas@sws.org.ph.

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TAGS: Duterte, Duterte administration, Inquirer Opinion, public support, Social Climate
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