84% of Filipinos reject gov't inaction vs. China on West Philippine Sea – survey

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 20) — Eighty-four percent of Filipinos oppose the Duterte administration's inaction in the face of China's intrusion in the West Philippine Sea, reflecting an increase from a previous survey, an independent pollster reported.

The Social Weather Stations (SWS) conducted a non-commissioned survey from September 15 to 23 through face-to-face interviews with 1,500 adult. They were asked several questions on China's presence in the West Philippine Sea (WPS). The survey result was released on Tuesday, the start of the two-day state visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

A vast majority of surveyed Filipinos said the government is making the wrong decision to leave China's infrastructures and military presence in Philippines' territory in WPS. That's 3 percent up from the survey result in June.

Eighty seven percent of respondents said it is important that the Philippines regains control of the islands occupied by China in the West Philippine Sea.

Seventy-two percent, from 69 percent in June, said it is "very important" for the Philippines to regain full control of the islands occupied by China in the WPS. Fifteen percent said it is "somewhat important."

From 80 percent in June, 86 percent of those surveyed believe the government must strengthen the country's military capability to protect its waters from China.

Filipinos' awareness of the West Philippine Sea conflict also rose to 89 percent, from 81 percent in June.

President Rodrigo Duterte has openly expressed fondness for the Chinese President Xi Jinping. He has been criticized for pursuing friendly ties with China amid the long-standing dispute on the South China Sea.

China has refused to recognize the July 2016 arbitral ruling that invalidated its sweeping claims in the South China Sea. The ruling also recognized the Philippines' rights within its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.

Duterte promised to bring the matter up with China during his term.

On the sidelines of the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations-U.S. Summit in Singapore on November 15, Duterte urged countries to stop provoking China with military activities.

He said the United States and other countries should accept the "reality" that Beijing "is already in possession" of some disputed areas in the South China Sea to avoid tension in the region.

Higher distrust in China

Those who were aware of the harassment incident between Filipino and Chinese fishermen in WPS noted higher distrust in China.

China was rated "poor" in the September survey with -16. Its net trust in June was rated "bad" with -35.

"Net trust in China has been positive in only 9 out of 47 surveys since SWS first surveyed it in August 1994," the polling firm said.

In mid 2018, members of the Chinese Coast Guard took the catch of Filipino fishermen around the disputed Scarborough Shoal.

Slanted survey?

Palace slammed the timing of the release of survey results, questioning why it was issued on the day of Xi's arrival.

"This adds credence to the commonly-held belief that polling firms could be wittingly or unwittingly used for partisan purposes... We, therefore, view the results with skepticism as the reliability of the data is in question," Presidential spokesperson Sal Panelo said in a statement.

He added that the questions were phrased to arrive at a negative stance against China.

"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.