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SOURCE: Press and Public Affairs Bureau

07 September 2021 12:11:56 PM

OCTA Research Philippines came under intense grilling at the House of Representatives Monday, as lawmakers dug deeper into its credentials and methodologies for analyzing data and predicting trends in the country’s COVID-19 cases.

Lawmakers took turns grilling OCTA officials led by their president Ranjit Rye, a political science assistant professor at the University of the Philippines, during an inquiry conducted by the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability.

They also questioned the accuracy of COVID-19 projections and lockdown recommendations of the group, which is headed by a non-health expert.

The committee, chaired by DIWA Party-list Rep. Mike Aglipay, launched an investigation into OCTA’s “qualifications, research methodologies, partnerships and composition” based on a resolution filed by five lawmakers.

The five are Deputy Speakers Bernadette Herrera (Bagong Henerasyon Party-list) and Kristine Singson-Meehan (Ilocos Sur, 2nd District); Deputy Minority Leader Stella Luz Quimbo (Marikina, 2nd District); and Reps. Sharon Garin (AAMBIS-OWA Party-list) and Jesus “Bong” Suntay (Quezon City, 4th District).

OCTA’s projections and recommendations on the COVID-19 pandemic are being considered by both the national government and local government units (LGUs), the
the most recent of which is the hard lockdown imposed in NCR from August 6 to 20 due to a surge in new infections.

However, lawmakers slammed OCTA for its unsound projections and for sowing panic among the population.

During the hearing, Aglipay said OCTA seemed to be overstepping its bounds by releasing alarmist statements “in a time of suffering.”

“It’s best that data speak for itself. Your commentary is too much,” Aglipay said. “Less commentary, less mistakes…Let the public interpret the data with their analysis of the data because sabi nga, with great power comes great responsibility.”

For his part, Suntay expressed concern over OCTA’s remarks being used as a basis for the implementation of lockdowns during the pandemic.

"Pagka nagbigay kayo ng pronouncement, it's taken at its face value, it's being used now as a basis for LGUs and sometimes by the national government for their reactions. Doon nagiging resulta noong lockdowns," Suntay said.

In their interpellations, Herrera and Quimbo raised concerns about a potential conflict of interest as OCTA releases infection forecasts while engaging in political surveys and advising LGUs.

“On the one hand, you are declaring which cities are epicenters, but on the other, you also help with LGUs,” Quimbo said, adding that OCTA’s forecasts are possibly compromised by its bias.

Meanwhile, Deputy Speaker and Buhay Party-list Rep. Lito Atienza chided OCTA for “positioning itself in the face of a pandemic and projecting political developments in the country.”

“If you would want to join the political fray, I believe that’s your right. But do not blend your so-called commitment to medical advantages for the people while at the same, inserting your political views,” Atienza told OCTA.

Concerns were also raised over the accuracy of data being used in OCTA’s reports, as Quimbo belied the group’s claim that its predictions only have a 5 percent margin of error.

Contrary to OCTA’s assertions, Quimbo found that the group’s predictions have a margin of error of up to 79 percent, which it did not dispute.

Lawmakers also asked whether the research group received P15 million from the government under the Bayaninan 2 law. While admitting the same, OCTA officials refused to disclose the exact amounts they received. #