MANILA, Philippines–A senatorial candidate on Wednesday accused the Social Weather Stations and Pulse Asia Inc. of harassment after the two survey firms filed a P1.4-million damage suit against him.
Social Justice Society candidate Samson Alcantara sued SWS and Pulse Asia at the Quezon City regional trial court last November to question the mechanics and veracity of the senatorial surveys that the two polling bodies have been undertaking.
Alcantara had called on the court to issue a temporary restraining order against the surveys and asked the SWS and Pulse Asia to first inform him of the questions that would be propounded to the survey respondents.
“I’m not questioning their right to conduct surveys. I’m merely asking what are the questions being asked in the surveys and that I be informed about it so I can protect my interests. This is also what people are asking. The activities of the polling bodies are not purely private undertakings but are impressed with public interest,” he told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
In their separate replies to Alcantara’s suit filed before the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 77, Pulse Asia counsel Jose Manuel Diokno and SWS lawyer F. Albert Bacungan said granting the senatorial candidate’s demand would be tantamount to a prior restraint on free speech.
“Pulse Asia has no legal obligations to notify plaintiff Alcantara, give him copies of survey questions to be propounded to the respondents, and data regarding respondents. [His] demand for such notice and information has no legal basis,” Diokno said.
Diokno also said that Pulse Asia’s right to conduct public opinion surveys, evaluate the results and release them to the public involve matters of public concern. He said such acts cannot be lawfully restrained or enjoined unless they pose a clear and present danger that requires the intervention of the state.
Being a senatorial candidate, Alcantara is a public figure and has “impliedly consented” to be included in surveys of legitimate public opinion polling bodies such as SWS, Diokno added.
Bacungan, for his part, said the Commission on Elections and not the RTC has jurisdiction over the political surveys.
“It is nothing more than an attempt on the part of [Alcantara] to inquire into the lawful conduct of SWS’s legitimate right and business to conduct surveys in any and all fields, and is a prior restraint or abridgement of the freedoms of speech, expression and press, without any basis in the Constitution, in law and in the rules and regulations of the Comelec,” added Bacungan.
The two survey outfits called Alcantara’s suit “unfounded and malicious” and demanded damages. SWS claimed moral damages amounting to P1 million and another P200,000 in attorney’s fees. Pulse Asia demanded P50,000 in exemplary damages and compensation for having to retain the services of a counsel worth P100,000 plus P10,000 per court appearance and P25,000 in litigation expenses.
Alcantara branded the counterclaims as harassment, adding, “Just because they are giant polling bodies does not mean they can do this to a cash-strapped candidate like me. I don’t even have money to campaign, how much more pay for the damages they are seeking? This is what a poor candidate is being put through just because he’s trying to protect himself,” the lawyer added.
He cited Section 10, Article IX-C of the Constitution which states, “Bona fide candidates for any public office shall be free from any form of harassment and discrimination.”