Six optimistic years | Inquirer Opinion
Social Climate

Six optimistic years

/ 01:05 AM January 02, 2016

I join the Inquirer family in mourning the passing of Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc, and in praising and admiring her outstanding courage, patriotism, talent and generosity. Despite my several years as a columnist, to my regret I didn’t take enough advantage of chances to interact with her, due to the distance from my office. The ones who originally invited me were the publishers, first the late Isagani Yambot, and then Raul Pangalanan.

But I have felt a worker-kinship with Letty since late 1985, when, to my surprise, Mr and Ms Magazine did a cover story on that year’s socio-political survey of the Bishops-Businessmen’s Conference for Human Development (BBC) that I had directed and presented in public. I didn’t know Letty personally then, and only got to meet her years later.


The substantive message of that BBC survey was, of course, that most Filipinos (two-thirds, actually) opposed the dictatorial regime. It comforted me that Jaime Cardinal Sin, Fr. Joaquin Bernas, SJ, and other ranking churchmen were on the same platform, and that I was booked on a fortuitous three-week academic trip abroad. By the time I returned and discovered the Mr and Ms story, Marcos had declared a snap election, and was even boasting that the BBC survey predicted he would win. Marcos bluffed many people; but he couldn’t bluff Letty.

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Holiday season optimism. Last week, the first media releases of the 2015 Social Weather Survey done on Dec. 5-8—“Expectations of a happy Christmas highest in 12 years, at 72%” (12/24/15) and “92% of Filipinos are hopeful for the coming 2016” (12/29/15)—indicated great optimism among the Filipino people. These probes into the coming of Christmas and the New Year have been part of the fourth quarter SWS round each year since 2002 and 2000, respectively.

Optimism about personal quality of life. Actually, the oldest single question item in the SWS survey series is on whether the respondent (a Filipino adult) thinks that her/his own personal quality
of life (uri ng pamumuhay) will improve, be unchanged, or worsen in the next 12 months. This item was run twice during the Marcos regime, in the April 1984 and July 1985 surveys of the BBC, which had been propelled by the national turmoil following the assassination of Ninoy Aquino in August 1983.

In April 1984, 26 percent were optimists, 30 percent were pessimists, and the rest expected no change in their personal quality of life. Thus pessimists dominated by four points; the very first “Net Optimists” score was -4. After a year, in July 1985, there were 36 percent optimists and 26 percent pessimists, and so Net Optimism had risen to +10. (SWS uses “Very High” for +30 or more, “High” for +20 to +29, “Fair” for the modal range +10 to +19, “Mediocre” for +1 to +9, “Low” for -9 to zero, and “Very Low” for -10 or less.)

The original survey question on optimism/pessimism about one’s forthcoming personal quality of life was run again by SWS twice a year in 1986-1991, and at least quarterly from 1992 to the present. Optimists have dominated the whole series, with only eight exceptions: in 1984 (Marcos time), twice in 2000 (Estrada time), and once each in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2008 (Arroyo time).

Ever since the second half of 2009—i.e., when it was already clear that the move to extend the Arroyo presidency through a constitutional amendment would fail—Net Optimism has been High or else Very High. My piece, “All-time high personal optimism” (Opinion, 5/30/15), appeared after Net Optimism reached +37 in March 2015. Thus we have just had six consecutive optimistic years. Watch for the December 2015 personal optimism report in an SWS release soon.

Economic optimism. A fourth regular SWS survey question is on whether one expects the Philippine economy to get better, get worse, or stay the same over the next 12 months (bubuti, sasama, o kapareho lang). This has been run quarterly ever since September 1998.

In many countries, personal optimism and economic optimism are often surveyed together, and found to fluctuate in tandem, upwards and downwards, over time. These surveys find, almost always, that personal optimism exceeds economic optimism; this is also true for Filipinos.


In fact, it is very common for people, everywhere, to be mainly optimistic about their own personal prospects, and at the same time mainly pessimistic about the prospects of the economy. It was also true among Filipinos in the regimes of Estrada and Arroyo.

Because of the great disparity, historically, in people’s expectations about their own personal futures, compared to those about the economy, the SWS classification system for economic optimism is different: “Very High” for Net Economic Optimism scores of +10 and up, “High” for +1 to +9, “Fair” for -9 to zero, “Mediocre” for -19 to -10, “Low” for -29 to -20, and “Very Low” for -30 and below. Thus any net positive score is enough for a High; a positive score is (or used to be) rare.

Despite such generous terminology, economic optimism was Fair or better only four times in 11 surveys during Estrada’s administration and only 13 times in 36 surveys during Arroyo’s administration. Interestingly, economic optimism in Arroyo’s time peaked at Very High in June 2010, when Arroyo was just about to step down.

On the other hand, in the time of Noynoy Aquino, economic optimism has been High seven times and Very High 14 times, in 21 surveys as of the third quarter of 2015. This is totally unprecedented. Watch for the SWS December 2015 economic optimism report soon.

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TAGS: administration, Aquino, arroyo, Letty Jimenez Magsanoc, opinion, satisfaction, Social Climate
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