By Dane Angelo M. Enerio
A “SIGNIFICANT majority” (73%) of Filipinos agree that President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s administration should assert the Philippines’ territorial sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea, according to a June 15-21 survey by Pulse Asia, commissioned by think tank Stratbase ADR Institute and presented at the latter’s forum on Thursday, July 12.
The forum marked the second-year commemoration of the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling at The Hague upholding the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone in its maritime dispute with China.
According to the Pulse Asia survey, 46% strongly agreed and 27% somewhat agreed the government should follow through its 2016 victory which dismissed for being legally baseless China’s long-used nine dash line claim.
17% of the respondents polled were undecided while only 7% said they disagreed (4% somewhat disagreed and 3% strongly disagreed).
On the position that the Duterte administration should take, 36% said the Philippines should “file a diplomatic protest”; 22% said the Philippines should “strengthen (its) military alliance with other countries such as the United States, Japan, and Australia”; 21% favored continuing “the current action of befriending China to avoid conflict”; 16% believed in “strengthen(ing) the Philippines’ military capability to protect our territories”; and 0.3% favored “declar(ing) war against China.”
Out of a limited list of countries, the US was the most trusted country by most Filipinos (74%), followed by Japan (45%), Australia (32%), and China (17%).
Vice-President Maria Leonor “Leni” G. Robredo, speaking at the forum, said “we have lost (the) advantage” provided by the 2016 Hague ruling, citing incidents of the Chinese Coast Guard harassing local fishermen despite their fishing within the country’s exclusive economic zone.
She said, “The far-reaching effects of the loss of that advantage was precisely what was in my mind, as I marked my second year in office two weeks ago. The images of those poor fishermen fighting for their livelihood and their lives remained with me….”
Ms. Robredo also said that “last week, our team went to Zambales, a province north of Manila, to find a way to assess the needs of our fishermen affected by the conflict in Panatag Shoal. They told us they need help with their livelihood, in the face of their difficulties in accessing their traditional fishing grounds. They need assistance with the rising cost of living. And what is most touching is that they were asking for assurance: that what is ours will remain ours.”
Acting Chief Justice Antonio T. Carpio, for his part, recommended that the citizenry can write to their representatives in Congress to help the Philippines in its maritime dispute with China.
“You can write to your congressmen that they should pass resolutions that the Executive Department should file additional cases to protect our fishermen,” he said in an interview.
“Our fishermen cannot really fish freely in the Scarborough Shoal. They are being harassed. We can actually file another arbitration case,” Mr. Carpio said.
He added: “You can write to your congressman, there are pending bills in Congress, to declare our area in the Spratlys as a marine protected area.”
“If we declare that, Vietnam will follow. So the other countries will be pressured to declare also the Spratlys as a marine protected area,” Mr. Carpio said.
Stratbase Chairman and former foreign affairs secretary Albert F. del Rosario, in his speech, called China a “grand lacernist” and an “international outlaw” for not complying with the 2016 ruling. He also said the Philippines was a “willing victim” on this matter.
He called on Filipinos to “voice our sentiments to our government and exercise our right to raise our indignation against China.”
“We need all of our friends in the community of nations who believe in the rule of law to help us. But before we can hope for help, we must first demonstrate that we are worth helping.”