House to probe OCTA Research over COVID-19 data, recommendations

Edu Punay - The Philippine Star
House to probe OCTA Research over COVID-19 data, recommendations
Marikina residents are seen inside the public market of the city on July 28, 2021. The Department of Health reports an increase in new COVID-19 infections following the detection of the local transmission of its Delta variant.
The STAR / Michael Varcas, file

MANILA, Philippines — The House of Representatives is set to investigate independent research group OCTA Philippines, widely credited by media for its data and recommendations on addressing the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.

House leaders initiated the congressional probe in aid of legislation, which would look into the “qualifications, research methodologies, partnerships and composition” of the research group.

House Resolution 2075 tapped the committee on good government and public accountability to lead the inquiry.

It was filed by Deputy Speakers Bernadette Herrera of Bagong Henerasyon party-list and Kristine Singson-Meehan of Ilocos Sur second district; economic affairs committee chair Sharon Garin of AAMBIS-OWA party-list; Deputy Minority Leader Stella Luz Quimbo of Marikina second district and Rep. Jesus Suntay of Quezon City fourth district.

“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,” they explained.

The proponents noted how media outlets have been citing recommendations by OCTA, including the hard lockdown this month amid the threat of the Delta variant.

They also cited 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.”

Previous infographics and press releases across press outlets and social media platforms refer to the “University of the Philippines-OCTA” group (UP-OCTA) or the “UP-OCTA Research Team” in predicting surges of COVID-19 cases.

Moreover, OCTA Research fellow professor Ranjit Rye has been quoted to refer to the group as the “UP-OCTA Research Team.”

However, UP Diliman associate professor Peter Cayton emphasized in one 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 its 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.

The lawmakers also cited criticisms of the research group, which has been accused of “fear mongering.”

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

Infectious disease expert Dr. Edsel Salvana earlier questioned OCTA’s case projection model, which he said has been “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,” he argued.

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