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Gordon sues survey firms, seeks damages

By Julie M. Aurelio
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 04:39:00 04/23/2010

Filed Under: Inquirer Politics, Eleksyon 2010, Elections, Richard Gordon, Opinion surveys

MANILA, Philippines?Claiming the methods they were using were ?flawed and inaccurate,? Sen. Richard Gordon Thursday sued two polling firms for damages and asked a court to stop them from conducting and publishing pre-election surveys.

In a civil complaint before the Quezon City Regional Trial Court, the Bagumbayan party?s presidential candidate said the survey firms Social Weather Stations (SWS) and Pulse Asia should be held accountable for their ?misleading surveys.?

In the last published SWS survey, conducted March 19-22, Gordon ranked 5th at 3 percent. In a Pulse Asia survey March 21-28, Gordon was tied with evangelist Bro. Eddie Villanueva also for fifth spot, at 2 percent.

SWS and Pulse Asia defended the integrity of their surveys.

SWS survey research and communication specialist Leo Laroza said on the phone: ?How can our methods be outdated if we?ve just received an award from the Gallup World Poll??

Gallup awards

In February, SWS received its second Gallup World Poll award for Outstanding Commitment to Methodological Rigor. In 2009, it received its first Gallup World Poll award for Outstanding Service and Data Quality for data collected in Asia.

Laroza said the face-to-face survey method that Gordon questioned ?is the most accurate of all methods.? He said the rest of the points raised in Gordon?s complaint would be addressed at a proper forum.

?We reassure the public that Pulse Asia employs scientific methods and upholds academic standards in the conduct of all its surveys and analyses,? Ana Maria Tabunda, Pulse Asia chief research fellow, said in a text message.

?Our data collection methods (e.g., face-to-face interviews) are not outdated but are suited to our population, a large segment of which has no access to telephones, including cell phones,? Tabunda added.

SC upholds surveys

Tabunda said Pulse Asia was still waiting for a copy of Gordon?s lawsuit before answering all points it had raised.

The Supreme Court in May 2001 struck down as unconstitutional a provision in the Fair Election Act which bans the publication of surveys days before an election.

?While it is true that surveys are part of our freedom of expression, such freedom is not within limits especially where, as in this case, public interest during election periods warrants that these survey companies at least publish credible and correct survey results,? Gordon?s lawyer Chito Diaz told reporters.

Diaz said Gordon was not after publicity or monetary compensation in filing the lawsuit.

?We want to establish that the rights of Sen. Gordon were violated through these misleading and false survey results. It?s not a publicity stunt,? Diaz said.

Gordon was campaigning in Mindanao Thursday.

Another Gordon lawyer, Karlo Tagarda, said: ?This lawsuit is also for Gibo Teodoro, Sen. Jamby Madrigal, and for all the other candidates who are marginalized because of the mental conditioning of these surveys.?

TRO sought

In his complaint, Gordon claimed that in their campaign sorties, he and running mate Bayani Fernando continued to be met ?by huge and enthusiastic crowds who have expressed eager support? for them.

Gordon asked the court to immediately issue a temporary restraining order against SWS and Pulse Asia to stop them from further conducting and publishing surveys on the May 10 presidential election.

He also urged the court to issue a writ of preliminary injunction that would require SWS and Pulse Asia to cease from releasing such survey results.

Gordon asked for P650,000 in damages, part of which he will donate to the Philippine Red Cross, which he chairs.

?The lack of scientific rigor, professionalism and ethical conduct by the defendants in conducting their pre-election surveys, have damaged ... Sen. Gordon?s campaign in that their surveys have forced him to ... waste valuable time and resources to explain his low survey ratings instead of focusing his efforts in communicating his vision ... for the country,? the complaint said.

It added: ?It has also affected his fund-raising activities as fund-raisers express their reluctance in funding the campaign of a purported ?unwinnable candidate?.?

Other allegations

Gordon claimed the polling firms refused to disclose the sponsors of the surveys, the methods used and the questions asked.

They ?have allowed politicians to ask their own questions in their surveys for approximately P100,000 per question, in addition to their subscription fee ranging from P300,000 to P400,000,? he alleged.

Gordon said the polling firms should have exercised more caution in conducting surveys, considering past ?errors,? such as in 2004 when SWS said President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo got 31 percent of Metro Manila votes while rival Fernando Poe Jr. 23 percent.

Gordon said the actual result showed the opposite.

He said the face-to-face interview method had been ?declared as ... grossly inaccurate by social survey science and reputable pollsters.?

Other candidates

The Fair Election Act provision that the Supreme Court struck down provides that surveys affecting national candidates ?shall not be published 15 days before an election and surveys affecting local candidates shall not be published seven days before an election.?

The SWS opposed the ban.

The high court ruled in favor of the SWS, saying the provision ?constitutes an unconstitutional abridgment of freedom of speech, expression and the press.?

The issue has provoked varied reactions from other candidates.

?Fake, for sale?

At a luncheon Thursday with Inquirer editors and reporters, Ang Kapatiran Party standard-bearer JC de los Reyes said: ?Polling is not wrong, when it?s used as a tool to get a sample of the sentiment of the general public. The polling outfits are just doing their job.?

?The problem arises when media outfits pick up survey results and convey a message to the people. The crux of the problem isn?t the survey but it?s really how we project all this data to the general public,? he said.

De los Reyes said the presentation of survey results becomes a form of mind conditioning when candidates are portrayed by the media as llamado (top favorite) or dejado (underdog).

Presidential candidate Jamby Madrigal supported Gordon?s decision to sue, saying of surveys: ?It?s not only fake but for sale.?

Brother Eddie said he had asked his lawyers to look into Gordon?s request to join him in the lawsuit. He said he too believed the surveys had been unfair to him. With reports from Jerome Aning in Manila; and Joey Gabieta and Carla Gomez, Inquirer Visayas

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