Palace: Pinoys to eventually appreciate China
A Social Weather Stations survey conducted on Sept. 27-30 indicated that China, which is embroiled in a maritime dispute with the Philippines, remains the least trusted country among Filipinos.
Edd Gumban/File
Palace: Pinoys to eventually appreciate China
Alexis Romero, Jaime Laude (The Philippine Star) - November 22, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Filipinos would eventually appreciate China because of the benefits of improved ties between Manila and Beijing, Malacañang said yesterday.

A Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey conducted on Sept. 27-30 indicated that China, which is embroiled in a maritime dispute with the Philippines, remains the least trusted country among Filipinos.

The nationwide poll of 1,800 adults found 54 percent of Filipinos having little trust in China and only 21 percent having much trust in the East Asian country for a “poor” net trust of -33.

China’s net trust was the lowest among the countries covered by the survey – namely, the United States (+72), Australia (+37), Japan (+35), Singapore (+26) and Vietnam (zero).

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said Malacañang is neither surprised nor affronted by the results of the poll, which he attributed to the West Philippine Sea dispute.

“The results of the survey… are foreseeable and understandable, given the conflicting positions of China and our country relative to the West Philippine Sea,” Panelo said in a statement.

“It is in our belief, however, that China, like any other country, will be eventually appreciated by the Filipinos by reason of the President’s independent foreign policy, which has resulted in significant benefits favorable to the Philippines,” he added.

Panelo said the Duterte administration respects the views of Filipinos who do not trust China.

“Despite the territorial dispute not being the sum total of our relationship with China, the Office of the President will neither court nor force any citizen to change his or her sentiments toward our giant neighbor in the north. We will respect their conviction the way we value their allegiance to the republic and its elements,” the Palace spokesman said.

Panelo added China, which has been criticized by various groups for its supposed poor human rights record, “could even become a role model of the Philippines in reducing, if not totally eradicating, poverty.”

The SWS survey was conducted three months after a Filipino boat carrying 22 fishermen was hit by a Chinese fishing vessel near Recto Bank. The owner of the Chinese ship has apologized for abandoning the Filipino fishermen but officials maintain that the apology does not excuse the owner and his crew from responsibility.

The Philippines’ relationship with China has improved since President Duterte assumed power in 2016, but critics are worried that the closer ties would jeopardize Manila’s claims in the West Philippine Sea.

Malacañang has given assurances that Duterte would continue to assert the Philippines’ maritime claims despite the improved ties with China.

‘AFP never shirked from duties’

Despite criticisms over the national government’s overall handling of the West Philippine Sea maritime and territorial issue, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has never dodged the performance of its mandated tasks as defender of the people and the state, according to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.

Lorenzana pointed this out in his speech on Wednesday evening at the 80th anniversary celebration of the Department of National Defense (DND) held at Camp Aguinaldo, where President Duterte was the main guest.          

“The AFP has never shirked from its duties to protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the state, and in promoting and sustaining our internal stability,” Lorenzana said.

The Philippines, despite gaining an upper hand on the legal front on its territorial and maritime row in the West Philippine Sea by winning its case against China before the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), the Duterte administration, citing the lack of enforcement mechanism, put aside the historic ruling, eliciting wide criticisms here and abroad.

Instead, through its independent foreign policy, the current administration is now pursuing the so-called appeasement policy toward Beijing, in exchange for economic as well defense and military gains.

“We have persistently upheld our national interests and sovereign rights, especially in the Philippine Rise and the West Philippine Sea. Our men and women in the military will continue to fulfill their sacred duty of securing the state and protecting the people,” Lorenzana said.

At present, military contingents from the Philippine Navy-Marines and the Philippine Air Force (PAF) are manning nine isolated outposts in the country-declared Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) in the hotly disputed Spratlys island chain in South China Sea.

Despite Chinese navy and coast guard’s menacing presence in the region, Philippine navy patrol ships or civilians boats continue to bring in food and non-food items needed by soldiers.

Filipino soldiers are currently stationed at Ayungin Shoal, Rizal Reef, the islets of Parola, Panata, Kota, Likas, Patag, Lawak and Pag-asa, the second biggest island after the Taiwanese-occupied Itu Aba.

The continued presence of Filipino soldiers since the 1970s in these forward military outposts is in support of country’s maritime and territorial claim in the KIG, being claimed wholly or in part by China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei.

All claimant-countries except Brunei have forward troops deployed in the region along with Malaysia, which is also expanding its presence in the region as it is now occupying five features in the disputed region, while Vietnam has 21 occupied features.

Meanwhile, China has been conducting massive occupation and militarization of its occupied  features – Zamora (Subi) Reef, Burgos (Gaven) Reef, Hughes Reef, Mabini (Johnson South) Reef, Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef, Calderon (Cuarteron) Reef and Panganiban (Mischief) Reef.

In line with its militarization in the region, Chinese navy and coast guard ships and hundreds of Beijing’s maritime militia vessels have been conducting harassment operations against Philippine and Vietnamese vessels.

The AFP leadership, however, continues to sail and fly over the KIG despite the unfolding security developments in the region, but while doing so, is keeping away from doing aggressive maneuvers to avoid miscalculations.

Lorenzana also declared in his speech that with the AFP modernization program and the AFP transformation roadmap, and the parallel blueprints of major services – the Philippine  Army transformation roadmap, the sail plan of the Philippine Navy and the flight plan of the PAF – the AFP is already moving forward to being a world-class armed forces that has a credible defense capacity.

“I would like to thank the President for his support and genuine concern for our soldiers and veterans. The doubling of soldiers’ salaries in 2018 and subsequently the veteran’s pension has tremendously raised their morale and inspires them to better do their jobs,” he said.

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