SWS poll finds ’clear agreement' government must do more to defend West Phl Sea

Bella Perez-Rubio - Philstar.com
SWS poll finds �clear agreement' government must do more to defend West Phl Sea
FILE - This March 7, 2021 photo shows Chinese maritime militia ships moored in line formation at the Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea.
NTF-WPS via Philippine Coast Guard

MANILA, Philippines — There is "clear agreement" among Filipinos that their government is not doing enough to assert the country's rights in the West Philippine Sea, a recent survey conducted by the Social Weather Stations found.  

This finding was presented by SWS president Mahar Mangahas at “State of Philippine Governance: A Five-Year Review of the Duterte Presidency,” a virtual town hall hosted by the Stratbase ADR Institute. 

Mangahas said the National Opinion Survey on the West Philippine Sea was conducted by SWS from June 23 to June 26, polling 1,200 respondents equally divided across Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. 

Of these respondents, 47% agreed that the government is not doing enough to assert the country's rights in the West Philippine Sea as stipulated by the 2016 arbitral ruling from the Permanent Court of Arbitration. 

Taken into account with another 24% of respondents who disagreed, SWS calculated a net agreement score of 23 or "clear agreement in all areas."

It also found "very strong agreement" from respondents "in all areas" that the government must work to form alliances with other countries to defend the country's territorial rights in the West Philippine Sea, with 69% of respondents agreeing and 10% disagreeing leading to a net agreement score of 59.

There was "very strong agreement in all areas" that the Philippine government's building of structures in vacant islands in the West Philippine Sea is important to assert the country's rights over them. With only 10% rating the building of structures as not important, SWS calculated a net agreement score of 60. 

Measures identified as 'effective' by respondents 

Three measures were also the most frequently identified by respondents as "effective measures" for the government to implement to better defend the West Philippine Sea. They are listed below in order of rank: 

  • Strengthen internal Philippine military capability 
  • Conduct joint military exercises with allies 
  • Implement the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement 

The termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement, which was ordered by Duterte after the US revoked the passport of his ally and former police chief, Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, is currently on hold. The EDCA gives American troops access to Philippine military bases. 

Respondents were allowed to choose three measures out of a list of five. 

The finalization of the ASEAN Code of Conduct in the South China Sea and bringing the issue to the United Nations General Assembly were ranked second to the last and last, respectively. 

Tepid views on protection of fisherfolk, natural resources and territory 

On the adequacy of the government's protection of fisherfolk's rights, natural resources, and Philippine territory, SWS found that national sentiment is "tepid" or positive but weak and affected by distrust in China. 

"National opinion is likewise tepid as to the benefit to the Philippines from the friendship of President Duterte with China," Mangahas said. 

Mangahas emphasized that sentiments "are geographically affected prevailing trust/distrust of China" with Metro Manila and Balance Luzon respondents holding anti-administration views while those from Mindanao and Visayas shared pro-administration views. 

China does not acknowledge the arbitral ruling that invalidated its expansive claims in the South China Sea, part of which is the West Philippine Sea. It continues to deploy its ships to the Philippines' exclusive economic zone, ignoring several diplomatic protests from Manila. 

President Rodrigo Duterte, at his final State of the Nation Address on Monday night, again said that asserting the country's sovereignty in the area would lead to war with China despite the slew of experts who have said otherwise. 

Asked about how the survey's findings might affect those who will seek national posts next year, Mangahas said they "should be heartened that the Filipino opinion is sensible" but should also note the "geographical slant" in views. 

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