84% of Filipinos oppose Duterte admin's inaction on China âintrusionâ â SWS
Members of different militant groups march toward the Chinese consulate in Makati City to protest Chinese intrusions into the West Philippine Sea and the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping in the country.
Edd Gumban

84% of Filipinos oppose Duterte admin's inaction on China ‘intrusion’ – SWS

Helen Flores (The Philippine Star) - November 21, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines – Eight in 10 Filipinos opposed the apparent inaction of the Duterte administration against China’s intrusion in the West Philippine Sea even as most of them continued to express “little trust” in the country’s giant neighbor, according to a survey by the Social Weather Stations (SWS).

 The poll, conducted from Sept. 15 to 23, showed 84 percent of Filipinos said it is not right for the government to leave China alone with its infrastructure and military presence in the Philippine-claimed territories. The result of the latest survey was up from 81 percent in June.

The release of the survey coincided with the state visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Manila.

At the same time, 86 percent of the respondents believe it is right to strengthen the military capability of the Philippines, especially the Navy. This was higher by six points from 80 percent in June.

On the other hand, 71 percent said it is right for the government to bring the issue to international organizations, such as the United Nations or Association of Southeast Asian Nations, for a diplomatic and peaceful negotiation with China about the claimed territories. The figure was down by three points from June’s 74 percent.

The nationwide survey used face-to-face interviews of 1,500 adults, 18 years old and above.

The survey also found 87 percent of Filipinos who think it is important that the Philippines regain control of the islands occupied by China in the West Philippine Sea.

Awareness of the West Philippine Sea issue also rose in the third quarter from 81 percent in June to 89 percent in September.

A majority of Filipinos were aware of China’s abuses of Filipino fishermen, SWS said.

It said 65 percent of respondents were aware that the Chinese coast guard has forced Filipino fishermen in the West Philippine Sea to turn over their catch even before the survey. The remaining 35 percent learned about the issue for the first time during the interview.

Palace reacts

Malacañang questioned the SWS survey which found that a majority of Filipinos reject the administration’s supposed inaction regarding China’s intrusion in the West Philippine Sea.

“We view the survey results with skepticism as the reliability of the data is in question,” presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said yesterday.

Panelo also saw bad faith in the timing of the release of the survey, which coincided with Xi’s first state visit to the Philippines.

“This adds credence to the commonly held belief that polling firms could be wittingly or unwittingly used for partisan purposes,” he said.

Malacañang said the questionnaire prepared by the SWS was misleading.

“We would like to express our concerns on what we consider a flawed questionnaire regarding China and the West Philippine Sea, particularly how some questions were phrased to arrive at the survey results,” Panelo said.

He cited the question: “Ang pabayaan na lang ang Tsina na panatilihin ang mga imprastraktura at militar sa mga inaangking mga teritoryo ay TAMA / HINDI TAMA na pamaraan na gawin ng gobyerno ng Pilipinas upang malutas ang pagtatalo ng Pilipinas at Tsina tungkol sa West Philippine Sea.”

“We consider the question skewed as it misled the public to believe that the government has not acted on China’s activities in the West Philippine Sea,” Panelo said. “This is far from the truth.”

Panelo said the Duterte administration has been consistent in its stance in protecting the country’s territorial claims and maritime entitlements. 

He added the Philippines and China have established a Bilateral Consultation Mechanism, which is  an important venue in amicably resolving territorial disputes and to strengthen the cooperation in matters of common interest such as the protection of Filipino fishermen.

Senators defended the Duterte administration’s approach in dealing with China’s militarization of Philippine-claimed sections in the South China Sea even as they stressed the government is not giving up the country’s claim over the disputed waters.

Senators Gregorio Honasan, chairman of the committee on national defense and security, and Aquilino Pimentel III deplored traditional security allies like the US for failing to help the country protect its territory in the South China Sea, which is vital in securing trade and security in the region.

“The government under President Duterte did something. True, we failed to stop the militarization but the US also failed to stop it. We are talking about militarization. If the US failed to stop it, do we really think the Philippines can stop the military maneuvering of a country the US cannot even stop?” Pimentel said.

He said the administration instead “befriended our giant neighbor to the north, which fortunately also wants to befriend us.” 

Pimentel said the government is not giving up its claims and gains such as the favorable ruling by the arbitral tribunal.

“We can sue each other if necessary but we can still be friends,” he said.

Honasan also blamed the US and other allies for being remiss in their security commitments to the country that was left defenseless.

 He attributed the results of the survey to the limited information the media and the general public have on issues surrounding the South China Sea.

Sen. Francis Escudero asked the administration to be more assertive or at least mention the arbitral ruling in policy statements and official declarations.

Net trust score

Meanwhile, China continued to receive poor net trust rating among Filipinos.

Only 27 percent of Filipinos said they have much trust in China, while 43 percent have little trust in the country, resulting in a net trust score of -16.

This was 19 points above the bad -35 in June 2018, the SWS said. 

Of the five countries rated by the SWS, the US remains the most trusted country by Filipinos, obtaining a net trust rating of “very good” +59, down six points from +65 in June.

The net trust score of the US has been positive since the SWS first surveyed it in December 1994, ranging from a moderate +18 in May 2005 to an excellent +82 in December 2013.

Japan also received a moderate +28 in September followed by Malaysia at moderate +15 and Israel at moderate +13.   – With Christina Mendez, Paolo Romero 

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