MAJORITY of Filipinos think that the Philippines should regain control of disputed islands occupied by China, according to a Social Weather Stations (SWS) poll.

Such sentiment has grown steadily in the past four SWS polls in the past year, according to the report e-mailed late Wednesday.

The polling company said 93 percent of Filipinos think the country should recover the islands in the disputed South China Sea, based on a June 22 to 26 poll. The proportion has risen from 89 percent in December, and 87 percent in earlier polls last year.

China has been building artificial islands in the disputed Spratly Islands and setting up installations including several runways. China claims sovereignty over more than 80 percent of the waterway based on its so-called nine-dash line drawn on a 1940s map.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte has sought closer investment and trade ties with Beijing, including over resources in the South China Sea, since taking power in 2016.

His predecessor, Benigno S. Aquino III, sued China before an international arbitration tribunal over its territorial claims, and won. He also strengthened Philippine alliance with the US to try to check China’s expansion in the main waterway.

Mr. Duterte would hold diplomatic negotiations with China, his spokesman Salvador S. Panelo told reporters at a briefing in Manila yesterday. “That’s the track that the president has decided,” he said at a briefing on Thursday.

SWS said 89 percent of those polled last month said it is not right for the government to let China build facilities in the area, up from 88 percent in December, 84 percent in September and 81 percent in June last year.

According to the poll, 92 percent said the Philippines should strengthen its military capability, while 83 percent said Duterte should bring the issues to an international tribunal.

The June poll also showed 84 percent saying the Philippines should ally itself with other countries to boost claims.

SWS interviewed 1,200 adults nationwide last months. The poll had an error marking of ±3 percentage points. — Gillian M. Cortez