Most Filipinos think gaining control of features in West PH sea important – poll

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The results of the recent Social Weather Stations survey were released two days before the third anniversary of the 2016 international arbitral ruling which invalidates China’s claims to virtually the entire South China Sea.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 10) — Most Filipinos believe it is important for the Philippines to gain control of features in the West Philippine Sea which are occupied by China, a new Social Weather Stations poll showed on Wednesday.

The results were released two days before the third anniversary of the 2016 international arbitral ruling which invalidates China’s claims to virtually the entire South China Sea.

Out of 1,200 Filipino adults SWS interviewed, 74% believe gaining back control is very important, and 19% believe it is somewhat important. This yields 93% of Filipino adults standing by the importance of Manila’s control over features in the West Philippine Sea.

The percentage is four points higher than the December 2018 result. The proportion of Filipinos who agree with this has steadily increased since June 2018.

Moreover, 89% of the respondents said it is not right for government to leave China alone with its infrastructures and military presence in the claimed territories. The number is up from 88% in December 2018, 84% in September 2018, and 81% in June 2018.

President Rodrigo Duterte has been criticized for his supposed failure to invoke the arbitral ruling against Beijing. Whenever issues about the dispute in the West Philippine Sea crop up, he would say that he could not go to war with China for fear of losing Filipinos' lives.

He has also said there is no reason to send “gray ships” in the waters — after a Chinese vessel sunk a Filipino fishing boat in Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea on June 9.

In the survey, however, 92% of respondents said it is right to strengthen the military capability of the Philippines, especially the Navy.

It is also right, according to 83% of the respondents, for government to bring the issue to international organizations such as the United Nations or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, for a diplomatic and peaceful negotiation with China. The ASEAN has called out China’s militarization in the global waterway, and is currently crafting a code of conduct in the South China Sea with Beijing. The code is an outline of what claimant countries can and cannot do in the global waterway.

Eighty-four percent of the poll’s respondents also believe the government should form alliances with other countries ready to help defend national security in the West Philippine Sea.

As he faces increasing pressure to assert the Philippines' sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone, Duterte has blamed the United States for allegedly doing nothing despite its miilitary might while China was building artificial islands in Philippine-claimed areas in the South China Sea. Last week he dared the U.S. "to fire the first shot" and start a war with China.