Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Loaded "Fairness" Question in the SWS Survey

From the Social Weather Stations 3rd Quarter National Survey, we have the following question:
"Recently the Sigaw ng Bayan and ULAP raised their petition to the Supreme Court. Do you have much trust, are unsure, or have little trust that the Supreme Court would make a fair decision as to whether or not to grant the petition of Sigaw ng Bayan and ULAP regarding people's initiative?" ("Kamakailan ay inakyat ng Sigaw ng Bayan at ng ULAP ang kanilang petisyon sa Korte Suprema. Kayo po ba ay malaki ang tiwala, hindi sigurado, o maliit ang tiwala na ang Korte Suprema ay makapagbibigay ng makatarungang desisyon kung dapat o hindi dapat na pahintulutan ang petisyon ng Sigaw ng Bayan at ng ULAP ukol sa people's initiative?")

In my opinion this is a loaded question because between the extremes of MUCH TRUST and LITTLE TRUST in something as nebulous as the likely FAIRNESS of a future ruling, there is a built-in statistical middle of citizens who would deny EITHER having a great deal of trust OR having so little as to be unpatriotic or heedless of duty. But notice how the question forces this range of "normal or average people" into the column of the UNSURE?SWS is able to get away with this legerdemain, this statistical question sleight of hand because most people really don't know very much about the particular controversy brewing in the Supreme Court. Between Much Trust and Little Trust are a also a large number of degrees of reasonable uncertainty. Respondents faced with such a question could be UNSURE about their feelings by default, or by humility at such a complex issue as charter change to a unicameral parliament; many could be unsure becasue they know they are ignorant of the Law; or unsure because fairness is hard to judge before a ruling is actually handed down, even if one knows a lot about it. Some might be SURE only that they have NEITHER much trust or little trust but just "average" trust in the Supreme Court. Thus the overwhelming percentage of the UNSURE was thoroughly predictable since by definition, any statistically random sample of respondents will contain a large proportion who are NOT extremists or exceptional on any question. But because of the way the question is asked, that stupid headline would seem to be justified. It is NOT. This is simply another risible example of a slyly designed Survey Question whose statistically probable and predictable results can be SPUN in the desired manner. Indeed, the article notes that the respondents who admit to following the news closely and knowing more about the case tend to trust the Supreme Court more.

It really is time now for the newspapers and other media to include a special item on so-called scientific public opinion polls in their Code of Professional Ethics to prevent giving credibility to the special brand of sly FALSEHOODS that only STATISTICS can spread around.

Take today's PDI Headline on the recent SWS "survey" (which it apishly put in big bold type on the front page): 60% of Filipinos doubt Supreme Court fairness
Asked if they had “much trust, were unsure or had little trust that the Supreme Court would make a fair decision on whether to grant the petition of Sigaw ng Bayan and ULAP regarding the people’s initiative,” 62 percent of the respondents said they were unsure. Twenty-four percent said they had “little trust” and 13 percent said they had “much trust” that the high tribunal would make a fair decision.

To see how silly and loaded this question is, consider the following alternative headline:

60% of Filipinos are UNSURE that the Supreme Court will rule UNFAIRLY.

This headline is just as logical a conclusion from the responses to the ILL-POSED SWS Survey Question, which is an example of what is called a NON-BINARY survey question and is automatically suspect on that account. Such questions cannot be answered with a Yes or No, such as for example the question: Do you support Charter Change now? Yes or No. Instead these questions create a third option whose interpretation actually depends on the question formulaton! Check this out...

Do you think Manny Pacquiao will fight with all his heart against the Mexican Morales? (1) Very sure he will fight will all his heart; (2) Unsure; (3) Very sure he will give up in the first round.

Most people don't actually follow boxing (I can't even give you Morales first name!) so it would not be surprising for the Unsure category to be chosen in overwhelming numbers. Would that justify a headline like: "60% of Filipinos aren't sure Pacquiao will fight with all his heart." ?

But watch, WHEN the Supreme Court rules against the People's Initiative, as I hereby PREDICT they will, all these birds will change their tune about the Supreme Court. At least for a while.

By the way, the Supreme Court has always had the BEST website among all Philippine government agencies. Under a decidedly tech-savvy Chief Justice in Art Panganiban, the site has recently undergone a facelift and made a quantum leap forward in the range of services it offers to the public.

The Home Page is slick and modern looking, with links to its main service offerings neatly arranged in tabs near the top. This is where Breaking News about freshly rendered Decisions will first appear. I've been watching it carefully today because of the expected ruling on the People's Initiative. At the moment the lead item is the stunning decision repealing EO 1 and declaring that PCGG has no absolute immunity in Sabio vs. Gordon.

Jurisprudence offers verbatim and online in Html format (not PDF!) the Court's Decisions (1996-2006) and Resolutions (1999-2006), complete with working links to and from Footnotes and internal references.

The Justices of the Supreme Court can be seen in thumbnail photographs formally dressed in black and purple togas with each serving as a clickable link to individual pages with more detailed biographical information on their Honors. A quick scan shows that five of the fifteen sitting Justices are now women.

The News Page looks up-to-date and substantial. In this Photo Release, we get a list of those attending the recently concluded Global Forum on Liberty and Prosperity in Manila. Philippine Chief Justice Artemio V. Panganiban (seated at center) poses for posterity with four members of the Philippine Supreme Court and the heads of delegations to the Global Forum on Liberty and Prosperity held from October 18-20, 2006 at the Makati Shangri-La Hotel in Makati City. (Seated from left) New Zealand Justice Edward T. Durie, Egyptian Deputy Chief Justice Adel Omar Sherif, Canadian Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, Chief Justice Anton Ivanov of the Supreme Arbitration Court of Russia, Chief Justice F. Philip Carbullido of Guam, Justice Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez, Senior Associate Justice Reynato S. Puno, Chief Justice Panganiban, Justice Leonardo A. Qusumbing, Justice Conchita Carpio Morales, Nepali Chief Justice Delip Kumar Paudel, Russian Federation Chief Justice Vyacheslav M. Lebedev, President Milan Karabin of the Slovak Republic Supreme Court, Justice Susan C. Kenny of the Federal Court of Australia, and Counsellor Natasha Bassingthwaighte of the Law Society of Namibia. (Standing)Judge Zholdybayev Sabit of the Kazakhstan Economic Court of the Commonwealth of Independent States, Justice John A. Manglona of the Supreme Court of the Commonwealth of Mariana Islands, Mr. Peter D. Maynard of the Peter D. Maynard Counsel & Attorneys in Bahamas, Justice Choo Han Teck of the Supreme Court of Singapore, Justice Tsghering Wangchuk of the Royal Court of Justice, Justice Li Ke of the Supreme People’s Court of China, Justice Fatos Lulo of the Supreme Court of Albania, International Bar Association President Fernando Pombo, Dean Nak In Sung of the Seoul National University College of Law, Sri Lankan Business Federation Chair Tissa Jayaweera, Judge Arar Najib Moh’d Khrais of the Supreme Court of Jordan, Chair Arman Mkrtumyan of the Armenia’s Chambers of Civil Issues of the Court of Cassation, Ukrainian Supreme Court Chair Viktor Gorodovenko, Judge Sobchok Sukharomna of the Supreme Court of Thailand, Professor Choong Yeow Chooy of the University of Malaysia Faculty of Law, and Law Lecturer Sudheer Shresta of the Kusum Law Firm in Nepal.

"SUB JUDICE!" all these worthy Justices and Jurists of the world must have muttered under their breaths, too polite and dignified to GAG at the sight of no less than the Speaker of the Lower House and President of the Republic of the Philippines make utter FOOLS of themselves by pitching for Charter Change in this gathering of Tribe of the Impartial!

There also links to difficult to find websites like the Court of Appeals and the Sandiganbayan. And much more.



I must admit that I am one of the sceptics when it comes to the sitting justices of the current Supreme Court. Perhaps because I personally two of them and have dealt with them before they donned the great black justice robe and know of what stuff they were then made of.

But the biggest reason why I'm sceptical of the impartiality of the justices is because of Hilario Davide and Panganiban.

Frankly, I've always looked at the Supreme Court per se as the institution of last resort in times of national legal crisis and bastion of impartiality that when Davide and his friend did his putsch, my respect for the people in that institution diminished.

However, I felt reinvigorated when they ruled against the first petition of Sigaw.

Let's hope you are right that they will render fair and impartial judgement on the blasted cha cha initiative.

Bernardo F. Ronquillo said...

There was time in the past when I truly have such a high regard for the Supreme Court of the Philippines. But when it became the Davide Court and later on the Panganiban Court such regard crumbled. It is Gloria's Court. Their decision on the present case will not change this view either way.

Reporters Without Borders ranks the Gloria's press freedom record as one of the worst in the whole wide world. Perhaps she can ask the Supreme to rule that RSF is unconstitutional or fabricate a National Archive document saying that RSF is a fake organization!

Rizalist said...

bfr, you know my disdain for the High Court in the past perhaps equals or exceeds your own. But bfr, I've come to the following conclusion: "the Supreme Court" is not a static body because its membership changes. Every time a member is replaced, there is the potential for change. Moreover, the real power of the Supreme Court is that it can change ANY decision made in the past by making new rulings. It is that supreme power we must respect, because if it is preserved pure and impartial, it can be a knife that cuts ALL ways.