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House probe sought into OCTA Research; group welcomes chance to discuss methodology

Five members of the House of Representatives have filed a resolution seeking an investigation into OCTA Research, an independent research group that regularly issues projections and warnings about the COVID-19 pandemic.

House Resolution 2075, filed August 3, urges the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability to conduct an inquiry "in aid of legislation to ascertain the credentials and background" of OCTA Research.

"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 are not irresponsibly and erroneously published," the five lawmakers said in the resolution.

In filing the resolution, the five said they want to determine the "qualifications, research methodologies, partnerships and composition" of OCTA Research.

The five lawmakers are:

  • Deputy Speaker Bernadette Herrera (Bagong Henerasyon Partylist),
  • Deputy Speaker Kristine Singson-Meehan (Ilocos Sur, 2nd District),
  • Deputy Speaker Sharon Garin (AAMBIS-OWA Partylist);
  • Deputy Minority Leader Stella Luz Quimbo (Marikina, 2nd District),
  • Rep. Jesus “Bong” Suntay (Quezon City, 4th District)

In a statement issued on Wednesday, the five said they also want 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."

The statement mentioned UP-Diliman Associate Professor Peter Cayton, who supposedly said in one news report that OCTA has no office within UP Diliman, and that the group does "not exist in UP's organizational structure."

It also quoted noted infectious disease expert Dr. Edsel Salvana as saying that "[t]he 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.

OCTA ready to defend methodology

Sought for comment, Dr. Guido David, an OCTA fellow, said he welcomes the probe as it would give them the opportunity to publicly discuss their methodology.

"I would like to say personally that I welcome the opportunity to discuss our methodology which has been unfairly criticized online without giving us the proper venue to defend it," he said.

He said he would also "insist" that Salvana "be present as a witness."

Another OCTA fellow, Prof. Ranjit Rye, said the same thing in an interview on Super Radyo dzBB, stressing that OCTA only wants to help the government in addressing the pandemic.

"Ang kalaban natin dito COVID, hindi OCTA [The enemy here is COVID, not OCTA]," he said.

"Sana malaman ng ating mga congressman na 'yun ang pakay namin [I hope our congressmen will see that that is our goal], our reports speak for themselves," Rye added.

Rye also said they have a healthy working relationship with the Department of Health, including Secretary Francisco Duque III and Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire.

"Iisang tao lang ang may konting problema sa amin [Only one person seems to have a problem with us]," he said, referring to Salvana.

During an online forum organized by the Federation Of Filipino Chinese Chambers Of Commerce & Industry Inc. on Tuesday, David said their projections are driven by data and not merely theories.

Rye, at the same forum, underscored during the same forum the importance of using the projections to address the threat of COVID-19 surge.

"The point is not that we are correct. The point is we now understand that we have information, we need to work together to deal with the threat of the surge and then again, it is not  OCTA being correct, it is about science," Rye said.

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 community."

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

It was OCTA Research which proposed to the government to declare a "circuit breaker" lockdown amid the threat of a more contagious Delta coronavirus variant.  —with Anna Felicia Bajo/KBK, GMA News