House probe on OCTA research group sought

House probe on OCTA research group sought

MANILA – A resolution has been filed at the House of Representatives calling for a congressional inquiry into the qualifications, research methodologies, partnerships, and composition of OCTA Research Philippines, an independent research group monitoring the pandemic in the country.

Deputy Speakers Bernadette Herrera, Kristine Singson-Meehan, and Sharon Garin, as well as Deputy Minority Leader Stella Luz Quimbo and Quezon City Rep. Jesus “Bong” Suntay filed on Aug. 3 House Resolution 2075, urging the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability to conduct an inquiry, in aid of legislation, to ascertain the credentials and background of the research group.

The lawmakers noted that OCTA research has gained media mileage for its projections and warnings about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, with the latest one pushing for a “circuit breaker” or hard lockdown this month.

“There is a public health and public policy need to ensure the safety and security of the population during this pandemic, and that information being distributed is correct and is not irresponsibly and erroneously published,” the lawmakers said in the resolution.

They also underscored the need to validate the connection between OCTA Research and the University of the Philippines System, as the former publicized a partnership which the latter seemingly denied.

Based on the previous infographics and press releases across press outlets and social media platforms, the independent research group was referred to as the “University of the Philippines-OCTA” group (UP-OCTA) or the “UP-OCTA Research Team” in predicting surges of Covid-19 cases.

However, UP-Diliman Associate Professor Peter Cayton was quoted as saying in a news report that there is no office within the campus named OCTA, and that it does “not exist in UP’s organizational structure.”

Based on their website, OCTA describes itself as a “polling, research and consultation firm” that provides “comprehensive, holistic, accurate, rigorous, and insightful data analysis to help our clients in government, the private sector and the NGO (non-governmental organization) community.”

It further indicates that OCTA specializes in public opinion research, qualitative and quantitative research, policy research and advocacy, and training and capacity building.

The lawmakers said the research group has not been spared from online criticism, with a number of netizens accusing them of “fear-mongering”.

They argued that even the Department of Health (DOH) and a member of the government’s Technical Advisory Group on Covid-19 had advised the group to “apply circumspection in making pandemic-related statements, in order to minimize public panic.”

The resolution quoted infectious disease expert Dr. Edsel Salvana as saying the main problem with OCTA’s case projection model is that it is “based on cases reported in the last two weeks.”

“Even a student of clinical epidemiology will tell you that that is not valid because cases that happened within the last two weeks are subject to error, because some get tested later or earlier. There are backlogs, so if you are making projections based on data that is incomplete or erroneous, you are going to come out with erroneous projections,” Salvana said. (PNA)

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