EIGHT of 10 Filipinos believe that the Philippine government should assert its rights in the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), according to a survey by Pulse Asia.
The poll showed that 84 percent of the 1,200 respondents agreed that the government should uphold the decision of an international arbitral tribunal favorable to Manila.
Of that number, 44 percent said they “very much agree,” while 40 percent said they “agree.”
The Permanent Court of Arbitration last year ruled that the Philippines has sovereignty to areas within the country’s 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone, a major political victory against China. However, President Rodrigo Duterte had said he is willing to set aside the decision in a bid to establish better political and economic ties with Beijing.
Twelve percent of those polled were ambivalent (may agree or disagree), three percent disagreed and one percent “do not know.”
The survey was conducted from December 6 to 11, 2016, two months after Duterte’s state visit to China that resulted in billions-worth of commitments.
The same survey showed that the US and Japan enjoyed high trust ratings from Filipinos with 24 percent and 17 percent, respectively.
On the other hand, 22 percent of the respondents said they do not trust China and 17 percent do not trust Russia – two countries that Duterte wants to have closer ties with.
Professor Renato de Castro of De La Salle University’s international studies department said there was an apparent “disconnect” on the public view and Duterte’s foreign policy direction.
“Foreign policy has to be democratic. It has to reflect the sentiment of the people,” he said in a forum in Makati City.
De Castro said the government has to consider public opinion in deciding what foreign policy to pursue.
Duterte has made it clear that he wants an “independent” foreign policy that is less dependent on the United States.
“The people ought to be consulted about what should be the foreign policy because it’s they who pay for the salaries of diplomats, for defense budget, for other expenditures if there’s a summit,” the analyst said. “They would have to pay the consequences whatever the cost of that change in foreign policy would entail.”
Dindo Manhit, president of private think tank Stratbase ADR Institute, said the survey suggested that the Philippines should continue to advocate that all concerned states, including China, must abide by the terms of the ruling.
“The Duterte administration can pursue its claim in the West Philippine Sea while still improving the country’s economic partnership with Beijing,” Manhit said, noting that the two are not mutually exclusive.
“In the medium term, we need to make peace and foster a new era of engagement with China. One that is based on mutual respect and the rule of international law,” he added.
Malacañang however maintained that the President continues to assert the Philippines’ rights over the West Philippines Sea (South China Sea) through diplomatic approach.
“What the President is doing it, he’s asserting it. But in a different diplomatic style,” Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said in a news conference.
“If you remember, when the ruling was promulgated in July 12, we got a lot of bragging from countries around that we should forcefully assert the ruling in favor of the Philippines. But our government showed instead a soft landing. The President chose to have a bilateral talk with the Chinese government, which gave us some advantage,” he added.
“The President has said that he’s not giving up our claims in the EEZ [exclusive economic zone]according to UNCLOS [United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea]. It just so happened that the Chinese government has reclaimed three of the islands there and they also have a presence in Scarborough,” he added.
China claims historic rights over about 90 percent of the area while Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping claims.
with a report from CATHERINE S. VALENTE