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SWS: Most Pinoys back govt stance on China

Most Filipinos strongly support the Philippine government’s handling of its territorial row with China, including its decision to elevate its dispute before an international tribunal, amid Beijing’s expanding presence in the South China Sea, a national survey said Monday.

Independent pollster Social Weather Stations also reported that Filipinos have a high distrust of China.

The SWS survey, commissioned by the Department of Foreign Affairs, was the first attempt to measure public sentiment over the varying approaches to dealing with long-unresolved territorial conflicts.

With 1,550 respondents 18 years old and above from all over the country, the SWS found that many Filipinos have a strong awareness of the Philippines’ conflict with China.

According to the survey:
  • 81 percent (62 percent strongly agree and 20 somewhat agree) agree with the government’s filing of case against China through the United Nations;
  • 80 percent (56 percent strongly agree and 24 percent somewhat agree) think that the Philippines should ask the help of other nations regarding China’s continuous strengthening of military forces in the South China Sea;
  • 93 percent believe that the Philippines should defend its territory and natural resources in the West Philippine Sea through lawful means (Manila calls parts of the South China Sea that fall within its exclusive economic zone the West Philippine Sea); and
  • 77 percent recognize international law as a great equalizer against countries that are stronger militarily and economically.

 “The overwhelming support of the Filipino people for the arbitration case and our rules-based approach to the West Philippine Sea dispute proves that taking a principled stance...strongly resonates with the Filipino people,” Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez told reporters during the survey’s launch.

The Philippine government has aggressively opposed China’s expansive territorial claims in the strategic sea, challenging Beijing’s claim before an international arbitration body in January last year.

China has been angered by the Philippines' defiance of what it perceives to be Chinese aggression.

Some Filipino academicians and former diplomats, however, have advocated a softer stance, including bilateral negotiations with China, to resolve the territorial disputes.

China has been criticized by many nations, led by the United States, for its rapidly expanding claim over the disputed waters despite a commitment under a non-binding code of conduct it signed in 2002 with Southeast Asian nations that claimants will exercise restraint and stop new occupation in the South China Sea.

China claims “indisputable sovereignty” over the entire waters, where undersea gas deposits have been discovered in several areas. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan are also claimants to territories in the South China Sea.

A separate survey independently conducted by the SWS revealed that Filipinos’ trust in China has been negative since 2012, when Manila and Beijing were locked in maritime standoff over Scarborough Shoal off the Philippines’ northwestern coast.

Filipinos’ perception of China somehow improved in the last quarter of 2013, but the distrust remains, with the other country registering a -17 percent rating on the survey, SWS president Mahar Mangahas said.

The United States, a key Philippine military ally, obtained the highest trust rating with +82 percent, followed by Australia with +53 percent, Japan with +47, Taiwan +11 and Malaysia +8.

Mangahas said the trust survey is conducted by the SWS on a periodic basis.

“This is something that SWS does from time to time. We ask about Filipinos’ trust in certain countries depending on what’s going on,” Mangahas said.

At the time of the survey international relief efforts for areas devastated by super typhoon Yolanda in Central Visayas were ongoing.

“The trust ratings including that of China bounced back in the last round...but nevertheless the distrust outweighs the trust in China,” Mangahas said. — BM, GMA News