MAJORITY of Filipinos agree that it is important to foster “strategic partnerships” with Japan and Vietnam and even approved of joint military exercises with the Japanese, but a majority also want a peaceful settlement of ongoing maritime disputes in the West Philippine Sea.
China’s intrusions in the West Philippine Sea, or South China Sea, remained the Filipinos’ top foreign policy concern, but they are also worried about bombings and bomb threats initiated by foreigners and the growing influence of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria on the local Muslim community.
This was the result of The Standard Poll survey on Philippine foreign policy, conducted among 1,500 biometrically-registered Filipino voters from 76 provinces and 38 cities from Dec. 4 to 12.
Seventy percent of the respondents agreed it is important for Manila to have a strategic relations with Tokyo while only 23 percent disagreed. The remaining seven percent said they don’t know enough to have an opinion.
The survey was conducted only days after Japan agreed to transfer defense equipment, including large maritime patrol vessels, to the Philippines at the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders’ Summit late November.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced the equipment transfer months after Tokyo and Manila held joint military exercises in the South China Sea last May.
The Philippines’ strategic partnership with Japan dates back to 2011 when President Benigno Aquino III and then prime minister Yoshihiko Noda announced the improved cooperation during Aquino’s first visit to Japan.
Manila later publicly backed Abe’s proposal to revise its constitution and allow the Japanese government to send Self-Defense Force overseas.
Sixty-two percent of survey respondents also approved of the joint military exercises with the former enemy that occupied the country from 1941 to 1945 while only 31 percent disapproved.
Fifty-six percent of respondents also agreed on the importance of having a strategic relations with Vietnam, which also has similar partnerships with the United States and Japan. Only 37 percent disagreed while seven percent said they did not have an opinion.
The strategic partnership agreement with Vietnam was also signed by President Benigno Aquino III and Vietnam President Truong Tran Sang at the sidelines of the Apec summit in Manila two weeks before the survey.
Respondents’ positive view of the country’s strategic partnerships with Japan and Vietnam reflected Filipinos’ continuing concern with Beijing’s activities in the South China Sea.
Twenty-seven percent of respondents said they considered China’s activities the most important foreign policy concern while 18 percent said they were concerned about the threat of war or disorder in other countries, including the Middle East.
A growing number of Filipinos have also expressed concern at the growing influence of ISIS in the country with 15 percent of respondents saying it is one of the country’s top foreign policy concerns and 24 percent said they were worried about bombings by jihadists.
More specifically, 64 percent were “very concerned” at the possible entry of ISIS in the country through the Abu Sayyaf group while 31 percent said they were “somewhat concerned.” Only four percent said they were “somewhat not concerned” and one percent “not at all concerned.”
The respondents expressed their concern only days after the military reported on Nov. 27 that an Indonesian terrorist was killed along with seven Filipino jihadists in a four-hour battle with security forces in Central Mindanao.
A few days later, a Malaysian jihadist, known to be part of a terrorist group in Malaysia, was killed in an Abu Sayyaf camp in Basilan.
The survey was conducted while the military and Malacañang repeatedly denied that there was any evidence to suggest that ISIS already had a presence in the country, although Kuala Lumpur had already asked Filipino officials for assistance in capturing jihadists who fled Malaysia.