Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Poor Judgement by the Smoking Senator

by Dr. Prospero E. de Vera

Here are ten important facts about cigarette smoking from the WHO: (

1. Smoking related-diseases kill one in 10 adults globally, or cause four million deaths. By 2030, if current trends continue, smoking will kill one in six people.

2. Every eight seconds, someone in the world dies from tobacco use.

3. Smoking is on the rise in the developing world but falling in developed nations. Among Americans, smoking rates shrunk by nearly half in three decades (from the mid-1960s to mid-1990s), falling to 23% of adults by 1997. In the developing world, tobacco consumption is rising by 3.4% per year.

5. Half of long-term smokers will die from tobacco. Every cigarette smoked cuts at least five minutes of life on average - about the time taken to smoke it.

6. Smoking is the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death. It is a prime factor in heart disease, stroke and chronic lung disease. It can cause cancer of the lungs, larynx, oesophagus, mouth, and bladder, and contributes to cancer of the cervix, pancreas, and kidneys.

7. More than 4,000 toxic or carcinogenic chemicals have been found in tobacco smoke.

8. About 200,000 Filipino men will develop smoking-related diseases in their productive years of age. It was estimated in 1999, that to provide health care for these sick men, and the loss in productivity, cost Filipino taxpayers some P43 billion.

9. Every year, there are about 20,000 smoking-related deaths in the country.

10. Tobacco use will drain nearly 20% of the household income of smokers' families.

So what is Senator Noynoy Aquino thinking when he had this picture taken with the two young women?

Poor lapse of judgement? Ignorant of the perils of smoking and second hand smoke? or maybe he simply doesn't understand the meaning of "leadership by example"?

By the way, he is the only presidential candidate who smokes!!

Noynoy Aquino admits his cigarette addiction and has adopted a "Barack Obama style" response - I will quit smoking when I become President.

But Noynoy Aquino is no Barack Obama.

Barack Obama has shown very good judgement by being extremely discreet with his smoking during the presidential campaign. And he has never been photographed with a smoke with young people around him.

Many legislators in the House of Representatives are joining the fight against cigarette smoking, with several lawmakers leading a bipartisan effort to pass legislation designed to scare smokers into quitting.

The group, which includes LP senatorial candidate Risa Hontiveros, is pushing a bill that would require tobacco companies to place “picture warnings” on their products to illustrate the dangers of smoking.

This move by the legislators is in line with the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), a May 2003 treaty that includes strategies against the problem of tobacco smoking. The treaty has been ratified by 154 countries, including the Philippines (

In accordance with the treaty provisions, the Philippines has to implement the “picture warning” policy by September 2008, according to Dr. Maricar Limpin, president of the FCTC Alliance Philippines.

Maybe Noynoy Aquino can clarify whether he supports this initiative? Maybe Riza Hontiveros can convince her presidential choice to lead this campaign in the Senate?

Or better still, can Noynoy Aquino please clarify his health agenda - does it include an anti-smoking component? Will he support increasing taxes on cigarettes to generate money for lung, larynx, oesophagus, and mouth cancer research and medication?

Studies show that close to 30 percent of Filipino adults smoke even if almost every one in the population is aware of the ill-effects of puffing a cigarette. (

You can count the cigarette addicted Senator in this 30% statistic. But he should be more circumspect in his public actions, or be told clearly that he does not have the license to kill the rest of the Filipino population like you and me.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Noynoy Aquino's Legislative Performance

by Dr. Prospero E. de Vera

I was surfing the world wide web last night when I stumbled upon an interview I gave in The Correspondents show entitled Ang Laban Ni Noynoy that was shown when Noynoy Aquino launched his candidacy late last year.

I argued in that show ( and ( that Noynoy's legislative performance paled in comparison with the other presidential candidates and that the fact that he has not produced a single law will be raised against him as the campaign period shifts into high gear.

As expected, his poor legislative record has become an extremely heavy albatross that has weighed down his campaign. Many columnists and bloggers have made fun of this situation by saying that the much maligned Senator Lito Lapid is more qualified to become President than Noynoy Aquino because he has, at least, produced one law (RA 9999) that would give tax perks to private law firms that render free legal service to poor clients.

In a portion of his official website called The Truth About Noynoy: Huwag Magpalinlang Sa Mga Sabi Sabi (, Noynoy Aquino's supporters answered the question - Wala ba Talagang Nagawa si Noynoy sa Lehislatura? - this way:

"CLAIM: Walang ginawa si Noynoy habang nakaupo sa senado, at hindi sapat ang kanyang mga hinain para sa serbisyong pampubliko.

TRUTH: Senator Aquino’s legislative record is filled with laws that push for transparency, accountability, curbing corruption and leveling the playing field so that special relationships do not take precedence over quality public service. A good lawmaker must not be judged solely on the number of laws penned, but the quality of these laws in the interest of the public good. Congress is a democratic institution that is also meant to guard against government excesses. Aquino believes we already have many good laws, and what is needed is proper enforcement."

There is something wrong, funny, and misleading about this statement.

1. Official records of the Senate and House of Representatives show that none of Noynoy Aquino's principally authored bills have been enacted into law. Then how can his official website say "Senator Aquino’s legislative record is filled with laws that push for transparency, accountability, curbing corruption and leveling the playing field..."?

A bill is not the same as a law. Thousands of bills are filed every year but very few of these bills get enacted into a law. Bills become law because their authors work hard to pass these through committee, defend its merits on the floor, get their colleagues to vote for their bills on second and third readings, and work with their House of Representatives counterparts to reconcile differences in the Senate and House versions.

Is this poor staff work or simply an attempt to mislead the public?

2. "A good lawmaker must not be judged solely on the number of laws penned, but the quality of these laws in the interest of the public good." True. But if a lawmaker has not even passed a single law, how can he be judged whether his laws are in the interest of the public good?

3. "Aquino believes we already have many good laws, and what is needed is proper enforcement." He may believe this, but this is not a factual statement. Let me enumerate several important bills that need to be enacted into law but continue to languish in the Senate because Senators have been unwilling to act on these:

- The Omnibus Amendments to the Local Government Code (Senate Bill No. 1161) that would correct many of the problems facing the country such as the rampant conversion of municipalities into cities and promote more devolution;

- The National Land Use Code (SBN 3426/843/641/82/76) which would serve as a blueprint for the prioritization and utilization of the country’s land and resources, protect agricultural lands from industrial activities as well as residential conversions, and delineate environmentally protected lands and indigenous peoples’ ancestral lands.

- Civil Service Code of the Philippines (Senate Bill No. 1162) that professionalizes the government bureaucracy and protects it from political interference.

- Freedom of Information Act that will allow citizens to access government documents to combat corruption and hold government officials accountable for their actions.

And the list goes on and on and on...

Poor staff work? or Misleading public relations spin to hide poor legislative performance?

You be the judge.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Latest Surveys: Here We Go Again!!

Dr. Prospero E. de Vera

The latest Pulse Asia, Manila Standard, and Business World-SWS surveys have generated a new round of analysis, and counter analysis, from supporters and spokesmen of the presidential candidates.

Last night, Tina Monzon-Palma invited me to her show Talk Back to analyze the latest Pulse Asia survey results. I was joined by Pulse Asia President Ronnie Holmes, Aquino campaign spokesman Edwin Lacierda, Gibo Teodoro media head Mike Toledo, and the venerable Ernie Maceda who is Erap Estrada's campaign manager.

The Pulse Asia February 21-25 survey ( declared that Aquino has reclaimed the lead over Villar by a 7 percent margin (36%-29%), that Estrada gained 6% points (12%-18%), and Gibo Teodoro ratings marginally increased to 7% from the January 2010 survey.

Pulse Asia in its media release also stated that the survey was conducted during a period dominated by the following: (1) speech delivered by Senator Manuel B. Villar in the Senate reiterating his innocence in connection with the C-5 road extension project controversy; (2) Senator Panfilo M. Lacson’s departure from the country; (3) official start of the campaign period for national positions; (4) COMELEC’s decision to unseat Pampanga Governor Ed Panlilio; (5) declaration of Lakas-Kampi CMD to field President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as its bet for House Speaker in the 15th Congress; (6) arrest of the Morong 43; (7) onset of the El NiƱo phenomenon; (8) increase in power rates and fluctuations in oil prices; and (9) occurrence of rotating brownouts in different parts of the country and the proposal to grant President Arroyo emergency powers to deal with the energy crisis.

The central questions asked in the show were - Are surveys helping you choose the next president? What and how do the strategists of the candidates use the survey results for their campaign?

While I didn't expect any new earth shaking analysis from Prof. Ronnie Holmes (the Pulse website contains enough analysis and tables), I did expect some new spins from the spokesmen of Aquino, Teodoro, or Estrada.

I was pleasantly surprised by Mike Toledo's grasp of the historical mis-steps by survey groups here and in the US, and his questions on how data gathering can be done in war torn areas.

Manong Ernie was at his best defending Estrada from the "too old" tag given by television viewers, Erap's "Mindanao message", and his sniping of both Aquino and Villar's "saturation" point.

What startled me was the spin given by the Aquino camp when asked about the decrease in Villar's support level. Consistent with his previous media statements, Edwin Lacierda declared that the decrease in Villar's ratings was due to his failure to answer the C-5 corruption allegations. According to Lacierda, the end-January survey did not fully capture the public sentiment about the issue but this new survey has clearly shown that the controversy has affected Villar's ratings.

As a UP Professor who has taught research methods in the graduate school over the past three decades I was shocked by this blatantly misleading analysis and twisting of facts.

If any of my students makes an incorrect interpretation of data he/she would definitely flunk my class!

During the Talk Back show, I had to categorically assert that:

1. Survey groups routinely describe the events happening when a survey is conducted to give the context under which voters preference is generated;

2. But it is impossible to do a one-on-one correlation between certain events (such as the C-5 controversy) and voter's presidential preference (choosing Villar or not). Pulse Asia never claims that there was a correlation. Unfortunately, some campaign spokesmen, and sometimes even the media, make this wrong correlation; and

3. Any such correlation is nothing more than media spin made by supporters of candidates. It is not supported by any empirical or statistical evidence.

If you want to test such a correlation, you have to ask each of the 1,800 survey respondents three questions:

First, are they aware of the C-5 controversy?

Second, among those who are aware, do they believe that the C-5 project is graft ridden? and do they believe Villar is guilty of the allegations of graft and corruption in his sponsorship of the C-5 project?

And third, for those who believe that Villar is guilty, will they vote for him as President if elections were held now?

Then you have to ask the same series of questions for all the other ten events mentioned by Pulse Asia in order to separate the C-5 event vis-a-vis all the other events occurring during the survey period.

Any freshman student of Statistics 101 would know this.

The most recent Manila Standard survey ( of 2,500 registered voters, and the Business World-SWS survey done during the same survey period says that Villar and Aquino are statistically tied!!

C-5 controvery? Mindanao message? It will be interesting to see how the campaign spokesmen explain or spin this!!