Pinoys find their voice on China issue

EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales - The Philippine Star

I watched in awe as a convoy of small fishing boats braved the tide – literally and figuratively – to head toward Bajo de Masinloc as part of a civilian mission to the disputed territory.

Our fishermen, their skin sun-baked from years of crossing the waters to put fish on their tables and ours, boarded their slow-moving boats and courageously escorted the “Atin Ito” civil society coalition.

The mission happened last month and as I watched the videos of the convoy that went viral on social media, I realized that now more than ever, Filipinos are voicing out their sentiment on the West Philippine Sea issue. This was in stark contrast to a more quiet stance during the previous administration.

It seems that Filipinos have found their voice again and are using their social media platforms to share their sentiment on the issue. This has been going on for a while now, even before the Atin Ito mission.

These are signs of the times and it’s especially interesting and fitting that this is happening now as we commemorate tomorrow the 126th celebration of the declaration of Philippine independence from Spain in 1898.

More than a hundred years since that day in 1898, it’s good to know Filipinos remain vigilant.

Survey says

It hasn’t always been like this and certainly not during the Duterte administration, largely because of the ex-president’s friendly ties with China.

Indeed, if the latest OCTA Research Survey results are to be believed, three in every four Filipinos or 76 percent perceive China as the “greatest threat” to the Philippines.

The survey, released last week, was conducted from March 11 to 14. While three points lower than the 79 percent posted in December 2023, OCTA said the figures may be considered statistically similar, given that the change was within the margin of error for national percentages.

“Across areas, those who see China as the greatest threat to the Philippines was highest in Metro Manila at 86 percent, followed by the rest of Luzon at 77 percent, the Visayas at 73 percent and Mindanao at 71 percent.” (The STAR, June 7, 2024).

Furthermore, OCTA asked respondents regarding their views on China’s impact on the Philippine economy and 44 percent said China does not have a positive impact, almost similar to 43 percent in December 2023.

OCTA’s non-commissioned Tugon ng Masa survey had 1,200 respondents and a margin of error of plus/minus three percent for national percentages, according to The STAR report.

An OCTA survey showed that 76 percent (or more than three in four) perceive China as the country posing the greatest threat to the Philippines; this is an increase of almost a fifth (17 percent) since the beginning of the Marcos administration two years ago.

These numbers show a shift in public sentiment, driven by evolving national policies and geopolitics.

Unlike Duterte, President Marcos has been consistently assertive on Philippine sovereignty and this is resonating loudly with the populace. Filipinos have become more vocal about the issue and the country’s sovereignty.

In Singapore, at the recent International Institute for Strategic Studies Shangri-La Dialogue, Marcos reiterated the Philippines’ adherence to international rule of law, saying “amidst challenging global tides, an important ballast stabilizes our common vessel. Our open, inclusive and rules-based international order is governed by international law and informed by the principles of equity and of justice.”

In reality, the distrust toward China goes beyond territorial disputes, also encompassing broader economic concerns.

No less than beer, infrastructure and power tycoon Ramon Ang said the Philippines should protect its territory, particularly in the West Philippine Sea, given its potential to be a major source of oil for the country, which in turn could bring down local power costs.

As OCTA’s findings show, 44 percent of Filipinos now view China’s economic impact negatively, likely stemming from concerns over unfair trade practices such as higher interest rates on loans extended to the Philippines and the Pharmally scandal which supposedly involved Chinese suppliers. The controversies surrounding Mayor Alice Guo are also not helping China’s cause.

A more balanced economic policy

Filipinos’ skepticism toward China’s economic role underscores a desire for a more balanced and autonomous economic policy.

Against this backdrop, Filipinos are also seeing the value of strengthening ties with the United States. Oh, how times have changed.

I echo the sentiment of Prof. Randy David when he said in his Inquirer column last month, “I never thought there would come a time when Filipino nationalism would be trained explicitly against China, rather than its usual target, the United States.”

The OCTA survey shows that the trust rating of the United States remained steadily high, scoring more than 85 percent since July 2021.

The implications of this shift are profound. A populace that once appeared indifferent to external threats is now engaged and more vocal, demanding accountability and action from their leaders.

Journey to independence

This is a welcome development.

Moving forward, our government, policymakers and lawmakers must also make sure that we can stand strong – on our own – against any external threats, especially with the dizzying changes in geopolitics.

On the economic front, we must strengthen our local industries and our military’s capability so we are not at the mercy of superpowers.

The journey toward independence is long and arduous, but reclaiming our voice by speaking out against threats to our sovereignty is a step in this direction.

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Follow her on X, formerly Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at EyesWideOpen (Iris Gonzales) on Facebook.

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