Did ‘Yolanda’ dampen optimism? | Inquirer Opinion
Social Climate

Did ‘Yolanda’ dampen optimism?

/ 09:22 PM December 20, 2013

In the SWS national survey of September 2013, 40 percent of Filipino adults said their quality of life would improve in the next 12 months, and 6 percent said it would worsen. The rest either said it would not change, or didn’t know. The difference between the percentages of optimists and pessimists is Net Optimism, which I shall abbreviate here as OPT.  The new OPT is +35 points (correctly rounded), which SWS classifies as “very high.”

Yet the heading “Filipinos’ optimism ‘very high’ ahead of disasters” of the BusinessWorld report (12/18/2013) suggests that the optimism was short-lived. Did Supertyphoon “Yolanda” indeed damage the optimism of Filipinos regarding their personal quality of life for the coming year? If so, by how much?


What was the effect of disasters on optimism in the past? Optimism has been surveyed in all the regular Social Weather Surveys since 1986—twice a year up to 1991, and then quarterly from 1992 up to now. Optimism at the national level clearly suffered due to a number of manmade disasters, particularly the 1987 coup attempt (OPT +7 or “mediocre”), the 1995 rice price crisis (+6, mediocre), and Juetenggate in late 2000 (-13 or “very low”; when OPT goes negative, one may say that pessimism prevails).

There have been some clear cases of national optimism hit by natural disasters. OPT fell from a “high” +23 in April 1990 to a mediocre +9 in November 1990; in between was the magnitude-7.8 earthquake of July 16, 1990, in Luzon.  OPT was still at a mediocre +6 in the next SWS survey in July 1991, or soon after the Mount Pinatubo eruption of June 15, 1991.


Nevertheless OPT recovered quickly, to a “fair” +17 in the next SWS survey of Nov. 4 to Dec. 6, 1991, despite Typhoon “Uring” (Nov. 15, 1991) that caused 8,000 deaths in Ormoc.  Neither was OPT in the Visayas in particular damaged; it went from +11 in July 1991 to +13 in November 1991.

Optimism has shifted from weak to strong.  During January 2001 to September 2008, OPT was especially weak—mediocre or worse (i.e., +9 or below) 19 times, and fair or better (i.e. +10 and up) only 16 times, in the 35 SWS surveys of that period.  Then, from December 2008 up to the present, OPT became “fair” (+10 to +19), “high” (+20 to +29), and “very high” (+30 or more), without returning even to mediocre a single time.  This makes me think that the shift from weakness to strength in personal optimism has been more related to the trend in public satisfaction with governance than to natural disasters.

In the table below are the numbers of people affected by natural disasters annually since 2001, as summarized in “Natural disasters at a glance,” Senate of the Philippines, April 2013.  In the last column of the table is the lowest OPT—i.e., the most pessimistic point, of all the SWS surveys of each year.

Year        Millions  Affected      Lowest OPT

2001        3.6                     +2

2002        1.2                     +3

2003        0.7                     -5


2004        3.3                     -4

2005        0.2                     -13

2006        8.6                     +3

2007        2.0                     +14

2008        8.5                     -6

2009        13.4                    +17

2010        5.6                     +26

2011        11.7                    +24

2012        5.9                     +27

Note that the peak of pessimism was in 2005, even though that year had the fewest number of people affected by natural disasters.  The more likely instance of a natural-disaster-effect was in 2008, since that year’s lowest optimism of -6 happened in the SWS survey of June 27-30, 2008, which was fielded right after Typhoon “Frank” (death toll 557) of June 20-23, 2008.

More importantly, the table shows that there was no instance of national pessimism during 2009 to 2012, despite Tropical Storm “Ondoy”/Typhoon “Pepeng” (9/23-27/2009; 929 dead), Supertyphoon “Juan” (10/18-21/2010; 18 dead), Typhoon “Pedring” (9/26-28/2011; 103 dead/missing), Tropical Storm “Sendong” (12/16/2011; 1,342 dead/missing), Typhoon “Pablo” (12/ 3/2012; 1,901 dead/missing), and the 2012 Habagat (8/1-8/2012; 97 dead/missing). The new SWS report for September 2013, with OPT at +35, shows that it was also unaffected by the recent Habagat (8/17-21/2013; 8 dead).

An SWS national survey can be disaggregated into the National Capital Region, the Balance of Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao.  From 2010 to the present, there has been no pessimistic OPT, not even a mediocre one, in any of these areas.  The lowest area-specific OPT has been a fair +17.

Thus, the survey history shows many cases of optimism surviving, unfazed by a natural disaster.  Of course, Yolanda was quite exceptional: 7,800 dead and missing, so far; 16 million affected and 4 million displaced; 1.1 million homes damaged, half of them totally destroyed.  Has Yolanda broken the solid pattern of optimism of the past four years?

The answer will come soon enough, when the results come in from the Social Weather Survey for the fourth quarter.  SWS is open to any outcome, whether downward, upward, or “sideways” (in stock price watcher lingo). Our task is to report correctly whatever the survey respondents tell us, undistracted by any preconceptions.

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Contact SWS: or [email protected]

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TAGS: column, Mahar Mangahas, Opinion surveys, optimism, typhoon `Yolanda
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