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By Ian Nicolas P. Cigaral

Trust in US still ‘very good’ but dips; China, Russia ratings turn positive

Posted on March 02, 2017

OVERALL PUBLIC TRUST in the United States -- the Philippines’ traditional ally that President Rodrigo R. Duterte has berated in his profanity-laced speeches -- remained “very good” but dipped last quarter, according to a Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey that also showed ratings of strategic rivals China and Russia turning around to positive territory.

The Fourth Quarter 2016 Social Weather Survey -- conducted Dec. 3-6 via face-to-face interviews with 1,500 adults nationwide and with a ±3 percentage-point sampling error margin -- found 70% of Filipinos having “much trust,” 19% undecided and 11% having “little trust” in the United States.

That yielded a “very good” +59 net trust in the US, down seven points from September 2016’s “very good” +66 and the lowest in over six years since March 2010’s “good” +35.

The SWS noted that the US’ net trust rating has been positive since the pollster first surveyed it in December 1994.

SWS classifies net trust ratings of at least +70 as “excellent”; +50 to +69 as “very good”; +30 to +49 as “good”; +10 to +29 as “moderate”, +9 to -9 as “neutral”; -10 to -29 as “poor”; -30 to -49 as “bad”; -50 to -69 as “very bad”; as well as -70 and below as “execrable.”

Analysts attributed the decline in Washington’s trust rating to controversial statements and protectionist policies of US President Donald J. Trump, but did not rule out Mr. Duterte’s tirades.

“Filipino individuals do not necessarily detach from world affairs, which means, because of Trump, Filipinos probably are now looking at the US differently or are expecting something different from the US,” Edmund S. Tayao, political science professor at the University of Santo Tomas, said in a telephone interview.

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While admitting “[i]t may probably also have to do with how our president has been engaging with the United States,” Mr. Tayao said this factor was “not as significant as, say, actual sense of Filipinos and their relatives in the US as far as what’s happening there.”

Mr. Duterte has been highly critical of US policy, especially under former president Barack H. Obama, but has been more tempered in his remarks upon assumption of office of President Donald J. Trump, whom the Philippine leader claimed had personally expressed understanding for his hardline measures against narcotics suspects.

At the same time, however, Mr. Duterte -- who calls himself a socialist -- has prodded the Philippines closer to China and Russia as part of what he dubbed as more independent foreign relations.

The same SWS survey showed China’s net trust rating turning around to a “neutral” +9 (39% “much trust” against 30% “little trust”) in December that was two grades up from September 2016’s “bad” -33 in September. That was China’s best rating in over four years since March 2012’s “moderate” +10 in March 2012, SWS said.

“Net trust in China has been positive in only eight out of 41 surveys since SWS first surveyed it in August 1994, reaching as high as a ‘moderate’ +17 in June 2010 and as low as a ‘bad’ -46 in September 2015,” SWS said.

Moreover, Russia scored a new record-high “neutral” net trust rating of +9 (36% “much trust”, 27% “little trust”), surpassing its previous record of “neutral” -4 in March 2014. “Out of the six surveys since December 1995, net trust in Russia was ‘neutral’ in three, ‘poor’ in two and ‘bad’ in one,” the SWS report also said.

“Relations between the Philippines with China and Russia have improved when the President charted an independent foreign policy course,” Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto C. Abella said in a mobile phone message when asked to comment.

“We are confident that public sentiment would be higher as we expect enhanced Philippines’ bilateral relations with China and… Russia and more people-to-people exchanges in the years to come.”

Sought separately for comment, Ramon C. Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform, said in text message: “Since most Filipinos get their news on these countries from media, the survey results reflect recent news.”

“Trump’s anti-immigrant policy has a negative effect; the news of China and Russia friendly overtures and offers of aid has positive effect,” Mr. Casiple explained.

“Duterte may have contributed significantly [to survey results].”

Two other close Philippine economic and strategic partners -- Australia and Japan -- maintained their “good” ratings from Filipinos.

Australia scored a “good” net trust rating of +37 (54% “much trust”, 17% “little trust”) that was nevertheless 10 points below September 2016’s “good” +47. “Australia has been scoring positive net trust ratings since SWS first surveyed it in April 1995, ranging from a ‘neutral’ +3 in September 1995 to a ‘very good’ +55 in August 2012.”

The same survey saw Japan similarly obtaining a net trust rating of +37 (54% much trust, 17% little trust) in the fourth quarter, three points up from the “good” +34 in September 2016 and the highest since December 2013’s “good” +47.

“SWS first surveyed public trust in Japan in December 1994, and found ‘neutral’ net ratings from December 1994 to December 1996, ranging from -2 to +9. It rose to a ‘moderate’ +17 in June 1997, and has since then been at ‘moderate’ to ‘good’ levels, reaching as high as a ‘good’ +47 in August 2012 and December 2013.”