I fell for a fake press release while doing research for an article about transparency as mandated by the Fair Election Law.

There is an interesting controversy over the scope of section 5.2 of that law:

“During the election period, any person, natural as well as juridical, candidate or organization who publishes a survey must likewise publish the following information: (a) The name of the person, candidate, party or organization who commissioned or paid for the survey; (b) The name of the person, polling firm or survey organization who conducted the survey; (c) The period during which the survey was conducted, the methodology used, including the number of individual respondents and the areas from which they were selected, and the specific questions asked; (d) The margin of error of the survey; (e) For each question for which the margin of error is greater than that reported under paragraph (d), the margin of error for that question; and (f) A mailing address and telephone number, indicating it as an address or telephone number at which the sponsor can be contacted to obtain a written report regarding the survey in accordance with Subsection 5.3.”

Polling groups argue that 5.2 applies only to published surveys while the Comelec and those who asked Comelec to enforce the said provision insist that it extends to unpublished surveys as well. There is also some disagreement on whether or not the phrase “commissioned or paid for a survey” covers subscribers to a survey as well. Litigating who is right on what is what makes lawyering such a lucrative profession.

At any rate, Sec. 5.2 is intended to eliminate fake surveys. Subsections “c” to “e” provide for an objective determination of a survey’s credibility and reliability while subsection “a”, the so-called money trail, provides context to the survey.

Context, by itself, will not prove that a particular survey is fake. Only an objective analysis of a survey as provided by subsections “c” to “e” can do that. However, context can provide the basis for speculation that fuels doubts about an otherwise perfectly legitimate survey. So I began to wonder if that was the reason why UNA spokesman Toby Tiangco – after Social Weather Stations published a survey he did not like – started talking up the issue of survey financiers instead of rolling up his sleeves and dissecting the survey in question.

I went to the official UNA website (unasasenado.com) to hear it from the spin doctor himself; the website posted his correspondence with Mahar Mangahas of SWS regarding 5.2 (a). After reading their exchange and laughing because Mangahas lectured Tiangco on the science of polling, I went on and checked out the site’s other posts. That’s when I came across a press release that made my steaming hot morning coffee shoot out of my nose.

“Zubiri vows to make AIDs (sic) illegal,” trumpeted the press release. It quoted Zubiri saying, “I am going to file a bill that will make the acquisition of AIDs (sic) a criminal offense, punishable by imprisonment.”

“Forget the transparency article and write about this insane campaign promise instead,” I exclaimed to my laptop. It immediately trashed all my notes on transparency and proceeded to search the web for related articles on the new topic, my laptop’s normal pre-writing routine.

Unfortunately, my laptop’s routine sent coffee shooting out of my nose again. This time because of a headline it found in the national section of this news site: “Zubiri to file charges vs hackers who defaced UNA website.”

The Interaksyon report quoted a statement from Zubiri, “I vehemently deny the statement or press release purportedly posted on the UNA website stating that I will file a bill if elected in the Senate making AIDS illegal. I have never issued such statement nor subscribe to that silly proposal… I am fed-up with these hackers. I had enough. Together with UNA officials, we will file a complaint with the Anti-crime Unit of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to locate these hackers,”

And so I wait with bated breath and scalded nasal passages for a report on the actual filing of the complaint by Zubiri “together with UNA officials” and the results of whatever action the Anti-crime Unit of the NBI will take. Damned hackers!

Buencamino is a fellow of Action for Economic Reforms (www.aer.ph).