9 in 10 Pinoys say regaining China-held islands in West Philippine Sea important

Patricia Lourdes Viray - The Philippine Star
9 in 10 Pinoys say regaining China-held islands in West Philippine Sea important
Protesters carrying placards shout anti-China slogans during a rally near Malacanang palace in Manila on July 9, 2019.
AFP / Ted Aljibe

MANILA, Philippines — A significant majority of adult Filipinos believe that it is important for the country to take back control of islands occupied by China in the West Philippine Sea, according to a Social Weather Stations survey.

The survey conducted from June 22 to 26 found that 93% or about 9 in 10 ault Filipinos said it is important for the Philippines to regain control of China-occupied islands.

According to the poll, 74% of the respondents said this is "very important" while 19% said this is "somewhat important."

Only 1% said the matter was "somewhat not important", 1% said it was "not at all important" while 4% were undecided.

China-held 'islands'

China occupies Panganiban (Mischief) Reef, which is within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone, according to a 2016 arbitral ruling that China rejects and that the Duterte administration has been playing down in favor of bilateral talks with Beijing.

In 2018,  Beijing had installed anti-cruise ship missiles, surface-to-air missiles and electronic jamming equipment on its "big three" islands in the Spratly chain — Fiery Cross, Mischief and Subi Reefs — which are also being claimed by the Philippines.

The Chinese Coast Guard also surrounds Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, which Manila also calls Bajo de Masinloc, a traditional fishing ground off the coast of Zambales.

Strictly speaking, none of those features are islands.

SWS noted that the perception of Filipinos on regaining control of islands in the West Philippine Sea in June was four points higher than the 89% rating in December 2018.

"The proportion has increased steadily in four surveys since June 2018," the polling firm said.

The figure was 87% both in September 2018 and in June 2018.

Calls for government action mount

A hugh majority of the respondents also called for the government to act on the West Philippine Sea.

The survey also showed that 89% said it is not right for the Philippines to leave China alone with its infrastructures and military presence in the claimed territories.

About 92% also said the Philippines should strengthen its military capability, especially the Navy.

For 83% of the respondents, the government should take the issue to international organizations such as the United Nations or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

At the same time, 84% of Filipinos said the government should form alliances with other countries to help in defending the West Philippine Sea.

The survey was conducted using face-to-face interviews among 1,200 adults nationwide. The sampling error margins are at ±3% for national percentages, and ±6% each for Metro Manila, Balance of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

"The Social Weather Survey items on people’s opinion about the issues in the West Philippine Sea were non-commissioned. They were included on SWS's own initiative and released as a public service," SWS said.

The Second Quarter 2019 Social Weather Survey is the same poll that found that 80% of respondents were satisfied with the performance of President Rodrigo Duterte.

In a statement, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo pointed out that the survey was done at the height of the Recto Bank incident, where a Filipino fishing boat sank after being hit by a Chinese vessel near the Recto Bank, which is inside the Philippine EEZ.

Panelo said the survey results show "the president is on the right track in his policies and actions of governance."

"More and more Filipinos, even former cynics, are believing in the President's honest intentions for our nation. They see how PRRD translates his words into action with his programs and policies positively experienced by them," he also said.

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