Freedom to dissent | Inquirer Opinion
Social Climate

Freedom to dissent

Being able to openly say whatever one likes, even against powers that be, is a precious freedom that has been enjoyed in the Philippines from the time democracy was restored in 1986 (“Most Filipinos feel they can speak freely without fear,” BusinessWorld, 6/11/2015).

The sense of being free to speak. This is shown by the series of nationwide surveys that probe for agreement or disagreement to the statement “Nasasabi ko nang hayagan at walang takot ang lahat ng gusto kong sabihin kahit na ito ay laban sa administrasyon (I can say anything I want, openly and without fear, even if it is against the administration).”


This item was run for the first time in the national survey of July 1985, that I directed for the Bishops-Businessmen’s Conference for Human Development (BBC), during the authoritarian regime of President Ferdinand Marcos. That survey found that 33 percent agreed, 29 percent disagreed, and a plurality of 38 percent were undecided. The implied net agreement of +4, indicating split opinions at that time, is the lowest extent of perceived freedom to dissent in all the 38 national surveys ever done, as far as I know, on this item.

(Of the 38 surveys, 37 were by Social Weather Stations, which was established in August 1985. But SWS does not exercise proprietary control over the item; all survey researchers are welcome to it. There will be locations where freedom to dissent differs from the national average.)


The second national survey on this item was in May 1986, in the time of President Corazon Aquino already. This survey, done by SWS, found that 58 percent agreed and 19 percent disagreed, for a net score of +39. Thus, freedom to dissent had risen radically from Marcos’ time. Five months later, in October 1986, those who felt free to dissent were 53 percent and those who felt unfree were 26 percent, giving a net score of +26 (correctly rounded), still much higher than the year before.

It was in March 1987 that the feeling of freedom to dissent reached the sky at 74 percent, while the feeling of unfreedom bottomed at 11 percent, for the record high net score of +63. That was right after the February 1987 ratification of the new Constitution, when findings were euphoric across the survey agenda.

SWS now classifies +50 and up as very strong, +30 to +49 as strong, +10 to +29 as moderate, and -9 to +9 as neutral. Scores in the negative range, if ever (hopefully not), will have counterpart adjectives poor, weak, and very weak.

In the nine surveys on this item in Cory’s time, only thrice did the gross agreement percentage go below 50: It was 46 in September 1988, 48 in September 1989, and 49 in November 1991. Freedom to dissent went moderate four times: +16 in September 1988, +29 in February 1989, +29 in September 1989, and +27 in November 1991. The average for the entire Cory administration was gross 54 percent feeling free, and net +32 or strong freedom. September 1988 was the least strong point of freedom to dissent, ever since democracy was reestablished.

In the three surveys on this item in President Fidel Ramos’ time, at no time did the gross percentage go below 50. Freedom to dissent was moderate once: +28 in August 1994. It peaked at +47 in September 1997. The average was gross 58 percent feeling free, and net +38 or strong freedom.

There were nine surveys on this item in President Joseph Estrada’s shortened tenure. The last three were during September-December of 2000, but there was no slackening of freedom during “Juetenggate.” In the whole period, the gross percentage feeling free ranged from 57 to 63, and the net score ranged from +34 to +45. The average was 60 percent feeling free, with net +42 or strong freedom.

In 10 surveys in President Gloria Arroyo’s time, the gross percentage went below 50 twice: 49 in May 2005, and 47 in March 2006. Correspondingly, freedom to dissent went moderate twice: +22 in May 2005, and +26 in March 2006. The peak net score was +47 in March 2001, very early on. The average was 55 percent feeling free, with net +36 or strong freedom.


Under President Benigno Aquino III, freedom to dissent has been surveyed six times so far. The gross percentage feeling free has ranged from 50 to 61. Freedom to dissent was moderate twice: +29 in November 2010, and +24 in March 2013. The peak net score was +42 in September 2013. The running average is 54 percent feeling free, and net +32 or strong freedom.

In the latest SWS survey of March 2015, the gross percentage feeling free is 54, with a strong net +32, nationally speaking. The net scores are strong in Luzon and the Visayas, but moderate in Mindanao (+23). The higher social classes feel freer to dissent, with a very strong +59 in the middle-to-upper ABCs, a strong +32 in the Ds, and a moderate +23 among the very poor Es.

The sense of being heeded by the government. A different probe that SWS has done, three times so far, is for agreement/disagreement with the statement “Ang gobyerno ay nakikinig sa mga hinaing ng mga taong katulad ko (The government listens to what people like me say).”

In March 2015, 49 percent agreed and 27 percent disagreed, or a moderate net +23 (correctly rounded) sense of being heeded. The first-ever probe, in March 2013, got 51 percent agreement and a moderate net score of +24. However, the next probe, in September 2013, got 57 percent agreement and a strong net score of +37. Did the May 2013 election improve the people’s sense of being heeded?

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TAGS: Cory Aquino, Ferdinand Marcos, freedom of speech, martial law, P-Noy
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