Lawmakers grilled OCTA Research Philippines, an independent research group monitoring the pandemic, over its methods and accuracy in releasing projections on the COVID-19 situation in the country.
On Monday, September 6, OCTA officials led by their president Ranjit Rye, a political science assistant professor at the University of the Philippines, were questioned by the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability during a virtual hearing.
The investigation against OCTA’s “qualifications, research methodologies, partnerships and composition” was chaired by DIWA Party-list Rep. Mike Aglipay, based on a resolution filed by five lawmakers.
Minority Leader and Marikina Rep. Stella Quimbo, who led the House panel, presented data from OCTA’s findings in contrast with the Department of Health’s (DOH) data dated June 29, 2020, to September 5, 2021.
Quimbo cited that on March 8, the research firm projected that the Philippines COVID-19 cases will log 5,000 to 6,000 daily.
However, the country later hit an average of 8,971 daily infections in the last week of March of the same year. Quimbo then spotted the 79.4 percentage difference, which is a far cry from the group’s claim of only a 5 percent margin of error.
“Napakalaki po ng variance sa margin of error. Gusto kong malaman kung anong pinanggagalingan na 5 percent lang mga margin of error?” Quimbo said.
This is not the first time that OCTA had a mismatched result and committed 6 more margins of errors that were over from the actual result from the DOH’s data.
Quimbo said the group has made a lot of “understatements and overstatements” in predicting COVID-19 surges in the country.
Aglipay said OCTA seemed to be overstepping its bounds by releasing alarmist statements “in a time of suffering,” for its unsound projections and for drawing panic among the population.
During the hearing, authorities also questioned the accuracy of COVID-19 projections and lockdown recommendations of the group, which is headed by a non-health expert.
Quezon City 4th District Rep. Jesus “Bong” Suntay has expressed his 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.
Yet, OCTA founder Ranjit Rye, an assistant professor of political science at the University of the Philippines, said that the decision of the government on imposing lockdown is based on the data from the DOH and not from them.
“We merely recommend. Honestly, it is wrong to say that OCTA is responsible for the decision of the government, the government has the Department of Health,” said Rye.
Meanwhile, lawmakers then raised concerns about a possible conflict of interest regarding OCTA’s forecasts being compromised by its bias and engagements in political surveys.
“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,” Deputy Speaker and Buhay Party-list Rep. Lito Atienza told the research firm.
Lawmakers also asked whether the research group received P15 million from the government under the Bayanihan 2 law. While admitting the same, OCTA officials refused to disclose the exact amounts they received.
Watch the full virtual coverage of the lawmakers and OCTA firm interview here: