Why pollsters should divulge funders

MANILA, Philippines – Take it from someone who used to “love” partisan survey firms.

For poll chief Sixto Brillantes Jr, survey firms should divulge their funders to make their surveys more transparent. This will also allow the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to closely monitor campaign finances.

Noong abogado ako, mahal na mahal ko ang mga surveys – lalong lalo na kung kakampi ng kliyente ko,” Brillantes said Tuesday, April 16. (When I was a practicing lawyer, I loved surveys a lot – especially when these favored my clients.)

Brillantes thus said the Comelec may compel survey firms to divulge their funders based on the Fair Elections Act, or Republic Act No. 9006. He said this the Social Weather Stations (SWS), in a hearing at the poll body, refused to disclose the funders of a February survey. 

The United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) had complained about the SWS survey after only 3 of its senatorial bets made it to the so-called Magic 12. UNA's founder, Vice President Jejomar Binay, remarked: "Hindi ako makapaniwala." (I cannot believe it.)

Brillantes said the Comelec will discuss this matter en banc, and will likely issue a resolution soon.

“If we feel that they have to disclose it, and we order them to disclose, and if they do not, then we can probably prosecute them for violation of 9006,” Brillantes told reporters in an interview.

'Not required'

During the hearing on Tuesday, the legal counsel for SWS argued that the law does not require polling firms to divulge who funds their surveys. 

“Our position, your honor, is under the law, we are not required to disclose the name of our subscribers, and that our subscribers do not pay for the survey. They merely pay a certain fee to obtain access to data on results of questionnaire items published by SWS,” SWS counsel Albert Bacuñgan said.

In its 7-page comment on UNA's complaint, the SWS argued against disclosing their funders' names by making a distinction between commissioners of and subscribers to a survey. 

Subscribers do not necessarily commission a survey, the SWS said. It also said the controversial questionnaire item in its February 15-17 survey – which pertains to voters' preferences for senatorial candidates – was non-commissioned. So why disclose?

“To repeat, this questionnaire item was asked on SWS' own account and was intended specifically for public disclosure. It was not commissioned or paid for by anyone,” the SWS said.

Law still applies

RA No. 9006 under Section 5.2, however, clearly states: any firm that publishes a survey during the election period should publish "the name of the person, candidate, party, or organization who commissioned or paid for the survey."

The SWS admitted subscribers pay for surveys.

In his letter to the Comelec, Tiangco then said: "Hence, even if nobody commissioned the survey, but there are those who subscribed and paid for it, the requirement of disclosure of identity still obtains."

Brillantes, a certified public accountant, pointed this out to the SWS during Tuesday's hearing.

"If the main source of funding is the subscribers, and the subscribers are politicians that involve themselves in the election itself, why will you not divulge this to the public?" Brillantes said.

In its comment, however, the SWS said the disclosure requirement "does not refer to the entirety of the survey's questionnaire, and hence to disclosure of each and every contributor to the survey fund, but only to the specific survey results that were published." Therefore, the SWS said it interprets the requirement as "disclosure only of whoever commissioned or paid for the specific questionnaire items that led to the published results."

Under Brillantes, the Comelec has launched a campaign to strictly monitor campaign finances. Watchdogs warn that overspending during elections may tempt a candidate to steal once in office. – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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