Comelec orders poll firms to name clientsBy Philip C. Tubeza |Philippine Daily Inquirer
Reveal the names of your subscribers or else.
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Tuesday ordered private polling organizations to reveal the identities of the subscribers of their preelection surveys.
In a resolution issued Tuesday, the poll body directed Social Weather Stations (SWS), Pulse Asia and other survey firms “of similar circumstances” to identify the “commissioners, payors and subscribers” of the preelection surveys they have been conducting since Feb. 12.
The Comelec issued the resolution after Pulse Asia and SWS, in a Comelec public hearing on April 16, refused to identify the subscribers of their preelection surveys.
Brillantes said there should be full disclosure because even if preelection surveys are “noncommissioned,” their paying subscribers might be politicians running for office.
He said the Comelec should have oversight over preelection surveys because they affect public opinion in the run-up to Election Day.
“Can you just imagine if the main source of a survey is a political party or candidates? Of course, there will be a question mark about their voter preference,” Brillantes said.
SWS, Pulse Asia and others were asked to submit within three days from receipt of the Comelec resolution “the names of all commissioners and payors of surveys published from Feb. 12, 2013, to the date of the promulgation of [the]resolution for copying and verification by the commission.”
The submission should also include all the subscribers of the published surveys.
All information supplied by the polling organizations will be for the exclusive and confidential use of the Comelec, the resolution said.
Liable under election law
Failure to follow the directive would mean being charged with an election offense under the Fair Election Act.
Under the Fair Election Act, “they are required to disclose even the subscribers because a subscriber pays for or at least (is) paying for part of the survey,” said Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes.
“If they don’t divulge, we will apply the provision (of the Fair Election Act),” he said.
Brillantes said the names submitted to the Comelec would not be made public as they are meant only for the poll body to review.
The SWS insists that the law does not require survey firms to disclose the identity of the survey’s subscribers.
“The law does not require us to disclose the subscribers precisely because it is our position that they did not pay for the surveys,” said SWS lawyer Albert Bacungan at the Comelec hearing.
“It is the position of SWS that when we speak of a subscriber like a subscriber in a newspaper, the subscriber is not responsible for the news report in that newspaper. Now, a survey subscriber is likewise not accountable to the public for survey results released on the basis of noncommissioned questionnaire items. That is our position,” he said.
Bacungan explained that subscribers pay a fee only to have access to the survey results. He said the SWS survey conducted in February—which was questioned because it showed administration candidates ahead of the others, was “noncommissioned,” or financed by the SWS itself.
However, Brillantes said subscribers could still be considered financiers of the survey because of the fees they pay.
“The amount that is given by way of subscription goes into the common fund of the survey entity… Therefore, when you conduct your own survey, you are using the funds from your subscribers,” he said.
However, Bacungan insisted that subscribers only pay for access to the results of noncommissioned surveys.
“That is not accurate because our position is the payment or the amount paid by the subscribers (is) to obtain access to certain data. That is what they are paying for,” he said.
The Comelec conducted the hearing after the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) asked the poll body to order survey firms to disclose the identities of those who commission preelection surveys.
UNA stands firm
On Tuesday, UNA said the rise of UNA senatorial candidate Nancy Binay in the latest SWS survey will not stop it from demanding that the survey firms disclose the names of their subscribers.
“Even if Nancy’s ranking rose in the survey, our position remains the same, these survey outfits should reveal their subscribers,” Navotas Rep. Toby Tiangco, UNA campaign manager and secretary general, said in a phone interview.
“In the first place, we did not complain because we ranked low in the surveys before,” he said.
Nancy Binay, the daughter of Vice President Jejomar Binay, one of UNA’s leaders, landed in the third and fourth places in the April 13 to 15 SWS senatorial candidate preference survey.
Affects voters’ attitude
Tiangco insisted that surveys could be used as a form of “mind conditioning that affects the attitude of voters.”
“If you rank high in surveys, people will vote for you,” he said. “But if you rank low, they’ll think that perhaps there’s an issue against you. And since you’re not likely to win anyway, they will not vote for you anymore.”
Last week, Brillantes said he agreed with UNA and would “compel” survey firms to disclose the subscribers of their preelection surveys.
“We will compel them. They have to go to the Supreme Court to stop us. Otherwise, we will do something. Any violation of our resolution and the law has a criminal aspect,” Brillantes said.
Tiangco said he was not aware if Nancy Binay was a subscriber of the latest SWS survey in which she tied with Cynthia Villar of the administration’s Team PNoy.
“If she was a subscriber, the SWS should disclose it too,” he said.
Not an SWS subscriber
What was certain is that UNA is no longer tapping the services of SWS, but is a subscriber of the rival Pulse Asia.
In a previous interview, Tiangco said he decided to ditch SWS after it purportedly revised the terms of an existing proposal. From the P1 million for each “survey round,” the amount was raised to P1.9 million, he said.
When Tiangco complained, SWS said it was willing to revert to the old proposal.
“What kind of negotiation was that?” Tiangco said.
“First, they said it was P1 million, then they raised it to P1.9 million. And when I decided not to subscribe anymore, they said they could go back to the original price,” he said.—With a report from Christian V. Esguerra