Some 73 percent of Filipinos believe the Duterte administration should exercise sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea, the latest Pulse Asia survey shows.
This was down from 84 percent in December 2016, two years after a United Nations tribunal ruled in the Philippines’ favor by finding China’s claims over the West Philippine Sea to be excessive.
“A plurality of Filipinos are of opinion that the Philippines should file a diplomatic protest in relation to the continuous militarization of the Chinese in our territories in the West Philippine Sea,” said Pulse Asia Phils. president Ronald D. Holmes in a forum Thursday.
The survey also showed that the US, Japan, and Australia, as well as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the United Nations are trusted by a plurality to a significant majority of Filipinos.
But Filipinos ranked concerns over the defense of the country’s territorial integrity against foreigners only 11th out of 15 national concerns.
At the same forum, acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio said educating Filipinos that they have sovereign rights in the area is the first step in rallying the international community to establish a rule-based system in the West Philippine Sea.
He added that the next step is to enter a conversation with the rest of the world to comply with the ruling.
China has refused to recognize the authority of the UN tribunal, however, and does not accept its verdict.
The Pulse Asia survey was conducted from June 15 to 25, and queried 1,800 participants.
About 46 percent of the participants strongly agreed and 27 percent somewhat agreed that the administration must assert the ruling that invalidated China’s claim in the West Philippine Sea.
Only 17 percent are in the middle while 4 percent somewhat disagree and 3 percent strongly disagree with enforcing the decision.
Two percent admitted that they did not have enough knowledge to give an opinion.
The same survey showed that 34 percent of Filipinos believe the Philippines should file a diplomatic protest against the militarization of the West Philippine Sea.
Some 22 percent believe the Philippines must strengthen its military alliances with the US, Japan, Australia, and other countries and 16 percent want the Philippines to strengthen its own military capabilities.
Only 21 percent want to continue the government’s program to befriend China.
Filipinos still have a high amount of trust in the United States (74 percent), Japan (45 percent), and Australia (32 percent) in comparison to China (17 percent), the Pulse Asia survey said.
On the second year of the Hague ruling invalidating China’s claim, the government said it will continue to assert the country’s rights over the West Philippine Sea.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque assured the public that the Duterte administration will not give up the country’s rights in the WPS.
“It is the second anniversary of our win in the arbitration before the Permanent Court of Arbitration and we assure the public that on the second year... anniversary, we will continue to assert what is ours while we move on with our bilateral relations with China,” Roque said at a press briefing.
Roque added that confronting the world’s second largest economy would be “suicide.”
Reacting to a statement by former solicitor-general Florin Hilbay that a group may go to the Supreme Court to compel the government to show what it has done to stop Chinese militarization of the West Philippine Sea, Roque said the record is clear.
“The President has publicly protested in some instances and I know of formal protests filed directly with the embassy upon the express direction of the President. So we have said all this; we are not hiding what we have been doing to protect our sovereignty and sovereign rights in the disputed areas of the West Philippine Sea,” Roque said.
Administration ally and Parañaque City Rep. Gus Tambunting said the government was already asserting the Philippines’ sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea.
But opposition and Akbayan Party-list Rep. Tom Villarin said the survey proves “Filipinos believe that our sovereignty is non-negotiable and cannot be traded to China nor our country’s rights be tied to loans and gifts from China.”
“The Pulse Asia survey result is an indictment against the Duterte administration for its appeasement policy towards China while doing nothing to assert the Philippine government’s victory in a historic Hague ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration,” Villarin said.
Hillbay on Thursday said they are planning to bring the issue before the Supreme Court.
“We are thinking of filing a case before the Supreme Court to compel the Department of Foreign Affairs [DFA] to prove that it has indeed filed any protest against China and pushed for the implementation of the arbitral ruling,” said Hillbay, a member of government’s legal team that won the arbitration case against China before the Permanent Court of Arbitration two years ago.
“The foreign affairs secretary claimed that he has filed many protests against China, but he hasn’t really shown us any specific document where he raised and invoked the decision. So we’re faced with the possibility that the secretary of foreign affairs is lying just to justify the failure to invoke the decision,” he said.
Hilbay also said failure to defend the country’s territory could be seen as a violation of the Constitution.
“The President himself—the highest official of the land—refuses to invoke the decision. The easiest thing to do is just to file a piece of paper, make it public and invoke the decision, but they have never done that. I’d say that’s a culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust,” he said.
But Hilbay admitted that an impeachment case against President Duterte would be “politically difficult” because the administration controls a majority in the House of Representatives.
Senator Leila de Lima, meanwhile, said Filipinos should not forget the country’s victory over China before the Arbitral Tribunal.
“It became the tangible proof of the honor of Filipinos, and their commitment to wage a principled and peaceful struggle against the might and force of a superpower,” De Lima said.
Akbayan Senator Risa Hontiveros’ challenged the DFA to show its “50-100” diplomatic protests against China, and filed a resolution calling on the Senate to conduct a “foreign policy audit” to review the administration’s response to Chinese incursions in the West Philippine Sea.
“Transparency makes for good foreign policy. On the contrary, total silence raises suspicion and discourages public confidence,” Hontiveros said. “Considering that the Philippine Senate has been granted by the Constitution the power to ratify treaties and in line with its check and balance powers, it has material interest in ensuring that the foreign policy adopted by the Executive is in the best interest of Filipino citizens.” With Maricel V. Cruz