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Most Filipinos scoff at government inaction on WPS

Eight out of 10 Filipinos reject the Duterte administration’s inaction on China’s intrusion in the West Philippine Sea, the latest Social Weather Stations’ survey revealed Monday evening, hours before the two-day state visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

SWS said 84 percent of adult Filipinos said it is “not right” for the government to leave China with its infrastructure and military presence in the disputed territories.

The latest result was up by three points from previous 81 percent recorded in June 2018.

The SWS also found that a sizable majority of respondents at 86 percent said it is right to strengthen the country’s naval and maritime capabilities. This was up from 80 percent during the previous survey period.

On the other hand, 71 percent also said it is right for the government to bring the issue to international organizations, like the United Nations or Association of Southeast Asian Nations, for a diplomatic and peaceful negotiation with China.

This was only three points below the 74 percent in June.

The SWS also found out that 87 percent of those polled stressed the importance of the Philippines regaining control of the islands occupied by China in the disputed waterways.

“The proportion of those aware of the West Philippine Sea conflict rose from 81 percent in June 2018 to 89 percent in September 2018,” the SWS said.

Among the 89 percent [who are] aware of the West Philippine Sea conflict before the interview, 15 percent had extensive knowledge, 32 percent had adequate knowledge, 41 percent had only a little knowledge, and 12 percent had very little knowledge about the matter, it said.

Respondents were aware of a number of issues involving the West Philippine Sea.

“The survey found 65 percent are already aware that the Chinese coast guard has forced Filipino fishermen in the West Philippine Sea to turn over their catch even before the survey, while the remaining 35 percent learned about the issue for the first time during the interview. This is the same as June 2018, when 65 percent were aware of the matter even before the survey,” the pollster said.

“Prior to the September survey, 62 percent already knew that the Philippines is unable to prevent Chinese fishermen from fishing in the West Philippine Sea. This is close to the 64 percent in June,” the SWS added.

“Prior to the September survey, 50 percent already knew that China created artificial islands that they use as military airbases. This is the same as the 50 percent in June,” it continued.

Meanwhile, despite some government actions to improve the relations between Manila and Beijing, Filipinos continue to see China in a bad light.

The SWS said that China was rated “poor” in the September survey with -16. Its net trust in June was rated “bad” with -35.

Public trust in China has only been positive in only nine out of 47 surveys since the SWS first surveyed it in August 1994.

The major polling firm also said the public distrust in China was higher among those who were aware that China created artificial islands for their military airbases.

The country’s longtime ally, the United States, however, kept a “very good” rating, yielding a 58 percent, which is six points below from the last survey.

On the other hand, countries such as Japan, Malaysia, and Israel have obtained a neutral net trust rating.

As they rolled out the red carpet for Xi’s visit in the country, Malacañang said the survey results were “far from the truth,” viewing the latest results with skepticism as they questioned the SWS’ data reliability.

“We find the timing of the release of the results of the survey suspect considering that such was made public on the day of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s first state visit to the Philippines. This adds credence to the commonly-held belief that polling firms could be wittingly or unwittingly used for partisan purposes,” Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a statement Tuesday. 

“We, therefore, view the results with skepticism as the reliability of the data is in question,” he said.

The Palace official also criticized the pollster’s method of crafting questionnaires, labeling the survey questions as “flawed.”

“We would like to express our concerns on what we consider a flawed questionnaire design regarding China and the West Philippine Sea, particularly how some questions were phrased to arrive at the results of the survey,” Panelo said.

“We consider the question skewed as it misleads the public to believe and suggests that the current government has not acted on China’s activities on the disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea. This is far from the truth,” he said.

According to the Palace official, the Duterte administration has been consistent in its stance in protecting the country’s territorial claims and maritime entitlements even as Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin himself was seemingly unaware of three weather installations that the Chinese had built in the contested waters.

“We have formed, together with the Chinese government, a bilateral consultation mechanism as an important venue in amicably resolving territorial disputes and to strengthen the momentum of cooperation in matters of common interest, such as the protection of our fishermen,” Panelo said.

The Palace official also expressed confidence that a more favorable public appreciation of China would happen in the future but said this would not happen overnight.

“Our country’s renewed ties with our giant neighbor in the North provides us a welcome opportunity for the public to know and understand China better,” said Panelo, mentioning that the Filipinos’ level of trust with China has improved dramatically since Duterte assumed office in 2016.

“It was -46 in September 2015 during the previous administration compared to -16 in September 2018 during the present administration,” he ended.

The latest SWS survey result was conducted from Sept. 15 to 23, used face-to-face interviews of 1,500 adults nationwide.

It has sampling error margins of ±3 percent for national percentages, ±4% for Balance Luzon, and ±6 percent each for Metro Manila, Visayas, and Mindanao.

Commenting on the survey results, Senator Francis Escudero said that while Filipinos do not expect the government to assert the country’s rights militarily, they hope it would at least mention these in policy speeches and declarations.

“Perhaps it is the perceived silence of the government in even mentioning it which our countrymen are really against and do not agree with,” Escudero said.

“While we cannot enforce the ruling of The Hague given our lack or absence of military and economic might, we should also not do anything to adversely affect or diminish the ruling and our concomitant claim by any action or inaction by any President or government, now or in the future,” Escudero said.

Senator Aquilino Pimentel III on rejected claims that the government of President Rodrigo Duterte did nothing on the Chinese militarization of the West Philippine Sea.

Pimentel insisted that while it is true that the Duterte administration failed to stop the militarization, he also noted that the US also failed to stop it.

“We are talking about militarization. If the US failed to stop it, do we really think the Philippines can stop the military maneuvering of a country if the US cannot even stop it?” he said.

“We befriended China. Our giant neighbor to the north, which fortunately also wants to befriend us,” he said. “Why should we fight when we can be friends?”

At the same time, he said the Philippine government is not giving up any of the country’s claims and or gains, such as the arbitral ruling.

Twitter and Facebook feeds were flooded Tuesday with Winnie the Pooh memes in a winking expression of anti-China sentiment stirred by Xi’s state visit to Manila.

The self-described “bear of very little brain” has been used in the past on social media to poke fun at portly Xi, a joke that has drawn crackdowns from Beijing’s censors.

In one clip posted Tuesday, Pooh bows before a mirror while “Hail Satan” flashes across the screen. In another, he floats near an artificial island built by Beijing in the disputed South China Sea.

“Because Winnie the Pooh is banned in China because he’s the spitting image of Xi Jinping, let’s protest his presence by posting memes and photos of him with his [lookalike],” Facebook user Wilfredo Garrido wrote.

Many Filipinos resent Beijing’s claim over most of the South China Sea, which an international tribunal ruled in July 2016 was without basis.

The dispute led to a freeze in Beijing-Manila ties, but all that changed when Duterte won the presidency shortly before the judgement was handed down.

He has opted to set the key ruling aside in order to pursue billions in trade and investment from China, which many Filipinos see as a frittering away of territory that is rightfully theirs.

Comparisons between Xi and Pooh first emerged in 2013, after Chinese social media users began circulating a pair of pictures that placed an image of Pooh and his slender tiger friend “Tigger” beside a photograph of Xi walking with then-US President Barack Obama.

In 2014, a photographed handshake between Xi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was matched with an image of Pooh gripping the hoof of his gloomy donkey friend Eeyore.

And in 2015, the political analysis portal Global Risk Insights called a picture of Xi standing up through the roof of a parade car paired with an image of a Winnie the Pooh toy car “China’s most censored photo” of the year.

America’s top diplomat to the Philippines on Tuesday said the United States is not asking any country to choose between the US and China as both nations bid for influence and clout in the economically vibrant Asia-Pacific region.

“Let me assure you that our Indo-Pacific strategy is not targeted at China or any other country. We have no intention of making your country choose between the US and China,” US Ambassador Sung Kim told a forum hosted by the Department of Foreign Affairs as Manila and Washington marked 67 years Mutual Defense Treaty alliance.

Kim said the US welcomes contributions by China toward regional development “so long as it adheres to the highest standards the people of the region demand including in areas, such as transparency, rule of law and sustainable financing.”

Apart from its escalating trade disputes, the US and China—two of the world’s largest economies—are wrangling for control and influence over the region. With AFP

READ: No country can enforce Hague ruling—Palace

Topics: Duterte administration , West Philippine Sea , Xi Jinping , Social Weather Stations
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