House panel bombards OCTA with questions on surveys, expertise, funding | Inquirer News
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House panel bombards OCTA with questions on surveys, expertise, funding

/ 04:32 AM September 07, 2021
Marikina 2nd District Rep. Stella Quimbo

Marikina 2nd District Rep. Stella Quimbo (shown here in a file photo delivering a privilege speech on Nov. 16, 2020) was one of the lawmakers who filed a resolution seeking a probe of OCTA Research. (File photo from the House of Representatives)

MANILA, Philippines — Members of OCTA Research may be accustomed to answering questions about the country’s COVID-19 situation, but before a House of Representatives panel, they had to answer matters beyond the realm of predicting infection growth.

On Monday, during the hearing of the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability, OCTA Research representatives faced a myriad of questions and suggestions from lawmakers — on the conduct of their political surveys, on the extent of their medical expertise, and on the source of their funding.

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Marikina 2nd District Rep. Stella Quimbo, one of the lawmakers who filed the resolution seeking a probe of OCTA Research, scored the firm’s president, University of the Philippines Professor Ranjit Rye, for changing statements on whether OCTA got its funding.

Rye maintained that OCTA Research was funded by volunteers and that fellows who were UP professors got public funding only for their research.

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“To answer that officially, we did not receive Bayanihan funds as a private group called OCTA. We don’t have a relationship with the University of the Philippines. We did not receive Bayanihan funds,” Rye told Quimbo, speaking partly in Filipino.

“So, Professor Rye, when I asked last August 26, 2020, during the Committee on Metro Manila Development hearing, when I asked you ‘did you received funds from Bayanihan 2’ and you said yes, so what are you saying?” Quimbo asked.

“I was replying as an employee of the University of the Philippines at that time, ma’am […] It’s UP that received [Bayanihan funds]. Personally, yes, [I received such funds] as a research grant. We have a research grant […] We are doing research on the effects of COVID-19. My area of research is on how state institutions have addressed the effects of COVID-19, and my research would be focused on Korea and the Philippines,” Rye reply.

Quimbo further asked whether the research that Rye would be doing — which is financed by UP — was part of OCTA Research’s activities. Rye said it was not.

“But you are Ranjit Rye, head of OCTA. You received funds to do COVID research. But you are denying that you have received Bayanihan 2 funds?” Quimbo asked again.

“Madam chair, as UP employees, we are open to apply for funds, and I know you know this as a former faculty member also. So we applied for that, and we applied as a separate entity from UP,” Rye replied.

Rye was also asked about OCTA Research’s mission, considering that it was known for analyzing COVID-19 data and making predictions before releasing surveys on elections and other issues like vaccine willingness.

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The UP professor said OCTA Research was a public opinion polling firm before the pandemic pushed it into helping the country navigate a COVID-19 new normal.

He was then asked by Deputy Speaker Jesus “Bong” Suntay whether the analytics group conducted its surveys voluntarily considering how expensive surveys are.

Deputy Speaker Bernadette Herrera-Dy also inquired about OCTA’s source of funds as it seemed improbable to operate on just boodle money.

“The initial survey we had was out of pocket, but [for] the succeeding surveys we had some subscribers as any fledgling public opinion research [would],” Rye said.

“Our noncommissioned survey still holds,” he continued. “We still have seed funds for that for at least two surveys. We already prepared that. We don’t know if we’re going to have another one.”

“As of now, OCTA is self-funded — [with] funds that we generated along with other fellows. We are now starting our public opinion research work, and slowly — hopefully — it will pick up and generate some more funds [with which] to continue our advocacy. If that will not work, then we will close down the research — that part,” he added.

On variance and accuracy

Quimbo also asked again about the influence that the group wielded, noting that its statements on COVID-19 surges could actually force the administration to act, for fear that it might be crucified by the public for not heeding the group’s findings.

“[You may say]: ‘It’s up to the government to come up with policy, especially on ECQ [enhanced community quarantine].’ Yet they make statements like we are officially in a surge,” Quimbo said.

“If you are listening to a group saying that we are officially in surge and that group is very popular, and if it’s you in the executive [branch], isn’t it like having a gun pointed at your head?” she went on. “Because that’s a weighty statement, and if they don’t listen to it, they would get flak from the public.”

She also doubted the accuracy of OCTA Research’s claim of having a small 5% margin of error. She then presented a table showing OCTA’s prediction having a variance higher than 5 percent — even going above 50% in some cases — compared to real-world data.

But another OCTA Research fellow, UP Professor Guido David, noted that they actually presented predictions that were not set in stone, stressing that the actual data would always exceed, and never go below, their predictions.

“Regarding the projections, we usually clarify our statements that these are projections — meaning there’s a trend. And if you follow this trend, you will reach the projection,” David said. “In that table that you presented, the large errors that we showed are actually under-projections — meaning that the actual numbers are much higher than our projections, and it does not affect surge prediction.”

“When we are under-projecting, and the actual numbers are going to be higher — I mean we’re saying that there’s a surge and now we didn’t project that there would be 22,000 cases last week from one month ago. So in terms of surge prediction, our model, I believe, is very, very reliable,” he added.

Earlier in the hearing, David also insisted that all of the surges that OCTA Research predicted were never wrong.

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TAGS:  Guido David, House hearing on OCTA Research, Ranjit Rye, Stella Quimbo
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