By Charmaine A. Tadalan and Gillian M. Cortez, Reporters

SEVEN of 10 Filipinos want the government of President Rodrigo R. Duterte to assert the country’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, according to the latest Social Weather Stations (SWS) poll.

Philippine citizens also think China should be held accountable for allegedly failing to disclose information about the novel coronavirus, SWS said in a statement on Tuesday.

The other 13% of the respondents in the July 3 to 6 poll disagreed, while 15% were undecided, resulting in a net agreement score of +57 that SWS classified as “extremely strong.”

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr. this week said a 2016 decision by a United Nations tribunal rejects China’s claim to more than 80% of the South China Sea is nonnegotiable.

The Department of Foreign Affairs issued the statement on the fourth anniversary of the decision favoring the Philippines in the arbitration case filed by the government of then President Benigno S.C. Aquino III against China.

The tribunal ruled that China’s claim of historic rights to resources within the sea falling within the ‘nine-dash line’ was illegal.

The court said the Philippines could declare certain areas of the sea as part of its exclusive economic zone because these areas do not overlap with any entitlements claimed by China.

Certain Chinese actions within the Philippines’ exclusive zone violated its sovereign rights and were unlawful, the court said. It added that China’s island-building activities in the disputed waterway had caused severe environmental harm in violation of international conventions.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte has sought closer trade and investment ties with China since he took office in 2016, including potential joint explorations for oil and gas in the South China Sea.

SWS found that four out of 5 of Filipinos, or 82%, thought the government should ally itself with other countries that will likely aid the Philippines in defending its territory.

Meanwhile, three of five Filipinos thought China, where the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) virus was first detected, held back information on the virus.

Seven of 10 Filipinos said China should be held accountable for the pandemic that has sickened 13.2 million and killed more than 575,000 people worldwide.

Stratbase ADR Institute commissioned the poll, which interviewed 1,555 Filipino adults on the phone and had an error margin of ±2 points.

Meanwhile, the delay in negotiations for a code of conduct in South China would probably give the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) more time to discuss how it should proceed, Nguyen Vu Tung, Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam president, said at an online forum on Tuesday.

“It gives ASEAN breathing space to think more clearly about the rules, the possible achievement by the code of conduct because it is too serious to be discussed online,” he said at the forum hosted by Stratbase ADR.

China and ASEAN have failed to meet and discuss the code, which they sought to complete by 2022, because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The interpretation here is we can forget about the deadline,” said Mr. Nguyen, who is also Vietnam’s ambassador to South Korea. “We can have an extended deadline, which is good because we can have a more substantive, more effective and more law-enforcing code of conduct.”

Murray Hiebert, head of research at BowerGroupAsia, said the US government should consult ASEAN on how to approach China.

“One of the problems we have with the current administration is they make very strong statements on an issue and then disappear for months at a time and that means it’s really not that effective,” he said, referring to the US.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday said China’s expansive maritime claims across most of the South China Sea were “completely unlawful.”

“To make what Secretary Pompeo said today have more gravitas would mean maybe consulting with ASEAN and other partners in trying to find a way forward to try and put more pressure on China,” Mr. Hiebert said.

Also on Tuesday, the presidential spokesman Harry L. Roque said tensions between the Philippines and China brought by the sea dispute should not stop the two from forming an alliance.

“We will proceed with our bilateral relations because the arbitral award is not the sum total of our relations with China,” he told a separate news briefing online.