Painting By Numbers

   A recent Pulse Asia survey shows that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is the most corrupt President in the Philippines, followed by Ferdinand Marcos in the #2 slot and Joseph Estrada in the #3 position.  This is no survey that you would like to jockey a top spot for.

   But wait: should we make a big deal about statistics in the first place?  After all, Benjamin Disraeli wrote that infamous quote: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

   Whenever I do social science, I wouldn’t rely on statistics for two reasons.  One, I’m not a good statistician (I took my Statistics course twice).  Second – and perhaps the most important – is that statistical data is all-too-often misread and misinterpreted.  Numbers show something, all right, but the numbers rarely ever tell the story.  To me, the story behind the numbers is perhaps more important than the story the numbers tell by themselves: numbers beg the question of sampling method, statistical tests, and so on and so forth.  As such, any statistical presentation of anything is itself a source of doubt.  Which is a good thing and a bad thing at the same time.

   I’m not an Arroyo supporter – for heaven’s sake I’m an Arroyo critic – and I must say that while I agree that Arroyo is corrupt beyond reasonable doubt, there’s just no way in hell an unbiased and objective survey would point to her being second only to Marcos, or even Estrada.  Had Marcos been a non-factor, she would definitely top the list of the most corrupt Presidents post-Marcos.

   Here’s why: every corrupt excess Marcos had in two decades of iron-handed rule is the absolute benchmark of corruption (I hope) in the Philippines.  You can throw every shred of evidence of corruption against Macoy and you wouldn’t be hard-pressed to back them up: from the billions plundered and coursed through Swiss bank accounts to Imelda’s shoe collection when Malacañang was raided post-EDSA I.  Surely, Arroyo wouldn’t make the same mistake in being far more corrupt than Marcos to incite the anger and revulsion of the Filipino people in being “more corrupt than Marcos.”

   As far as Erap is concerned, say what you will about the Sandiganbayan verdict, but the verdict just goes to show that if we cannot indict the former President fairly and justly for plunder, we might as well indict him for a thinly-disguised charge of incompetence.  The evidence against Erap, as the prosecution panel said, can fill up a room.  If it did, then what more for Gloria?

   Here’s the thing: I’m not downplaying the negative effects of surveys against the President, but once the survey’s findings becomes questionable, then it is possible to downplay the whole idea of the survey.  Especially when the survey is supposed to corroborate something obvious.

   Not too long ago, I was talking to an instructor-friend of mine: like me, he has no love lost for Arroyo.  But he brings up a rather interesting point: aren’t the allegations against GMA completely circumstancial, like connect-the-dots painting-by-numbers things?  If anything, my general impression of the Arroyo Presidency is that it has proven to be a scapegoat for everything wrong with this country: if you can’t blame anyone else, blame Arroyo.  This goes for everything from the ULTRA Stampede to the death of Marrianet Amper.  Giving her the title of “Most Corrupt” only serves to add to the long list of “circumstancial crimes” we can pinpoint to GMA.

   Anyway, here’s what I think: statistics only tell half the story.  The other half still remains as speculation.

Marck

ID for almost everything: @marocharim

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