House members grill OCTA Research Group over COVID-19 projection methods


Posted at Sep 07 2021 12:49 AM

People queue to get COVID-19 vaccine at a school turned vaccination site, in Manila, August 9, 2021. Eloisa Lopez, Reuters/file
People queue to get COVID-19 vaccine at a school turned vaccination site, in Manila, August 9, 2021. Eloisa Lopez, Reuters/file

MANILA—House members grilled the OCTA Research Group on Monday, questioning its methods and authority in releasing projections and suggestions on the COVID-19 situation in the Philippines.

The House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability, chaired by DIWA Partylist Rep. Michael Edgar Aglipay, SAID the group had large discrepancies in its projections of COVID-19 cases in the country.

Minority Leader and Marikina Rep. Stella Quimbo, who led the House panel in questioning OCTA members DURING a virtual hearing, added that the group had a larger margin of error than it claimed before in its statements. OCTA's Dr. Guido David earlier said in a statement that the group only has a 5% margin of error.

Quimbo presented a data sheet listing OCTA's projections in contrast with the Department of Health's data from June 29, 2020 until Sept. 5, 2021. She noted that on March 8, the group projected that the Philippines will log 5,000 to 6,000 daily COVID-19 cases by the end of the same month. 

But the country would later log an average of 8,971 daily infections in the last week of March 2021, Quimbo said, hitting up to 79.4 in percent variance or percentage difference.

Quimbo, a former econometrician, affirmed the group had projections that were under the 5 percent margin of error, but she also noted that OCTA had 6 projections that were over that margin. 

"Napakalaki po ng variance sa margin of error. Gusto kong malaman kung anong pinanggagalingan na 5 percent lang mga margin of error?" Quimbo said.

David said the margin of error OCTA claimed is not related to its projections but the data they get from the DOH, which they use to make forecasts.

"And we have validated it with studies na its 5 percent (margin of) error," he said.

On OCTA's projections, the group follows a "trend" that leads them to forecasts.

"Sometimes a trend will vary or a lot of trends will vary," David said, adding that the large percent variances showed by Quimbo were under projections, and they don't affect the group's prediction of surge in COVID-19 cases. He acknowledged, however, that errors were made.

Quimbo said the group has made a lot of "understatements and overstatements" in predicting COVID-19 surges and that based on David's words, OCTA has "forecasting inaccuracies."

Other lawmakers, meanwhile, told members of OCTA to stop giving their commentary on COVID-19 data. 

“There is a need to be more discerning and judicious in using the researches and analysis of experts and scientists especially those coming from private organizations ... we are not here to censor, we are not here to abridge the right to the freedom of speech, we just here as the committee on good government and public accountability to demand accountability," Aglipay said.

”Base po sa aking nakikita this past 1 year, nasobrahan ho ng komentaryo parang na-overexpose yung komentaryo masyadong maraming comment i-limit na lang natin sa data kasi kayo ay research group, data driven and analysis driven. Why not limit it to that?”

Deputy Speaker Bernadette Herrera also questioned the data and models used by the research group.

“This was called out by infectious disease expert Dr. Edsel Salvana, indicating that the OCTA’s modeling for projections is problematic and based on incomplete or erroneous data,” Herrera said.

OCTA said its data were from the DOH.

“We get our data largely from the Department of Health. We like to reiterate we are an independent scientific group, not a medical group and one of our research objectives our agenda is to do data analytics for COVID-19 so we get our data solely from office source which is the Department of Health,” said OCTA founder Ranjit Rye, an assistant professor of political science at University of the Philippines.

He added these data make up their report, which they submit to the country's inter-agency task force (IATF) on COVID-19 before they release it publicly.

Salvana of the DOH Technical Advisory Group, meanwhile, said there was a concern from their department that it needed to align its data with those from OCTA. He said they invited the group to coordinate but OCTA eventually refused to remain independent.

"We respected that decision from them," Salvana said.

Officials and the public have blamed OCTA for making projections and recommendations that lead to lockdowns in the Philippines, but the group called it unfair to solely blame them for enforcing community quarantines as they are not part of the government.

Rye said that the decision by the government is based on the data from the DOH and not from them.

“We merely recommend. Honestly, it is wrong to say that OCTA is responsible for the decision of government, government has the Department of Health,” said Rye. — With a report from Zandro Ochona, ABS-CBN News


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