A little over two years after the Hague sided with the Philippines in a case regarding the ongoing dispute in the South China Sea, most Filipinos seem dissatisfied with the government’s perceived inaction over China’s militarisation of the disputed area.
A survey released by Philippine pollster Social Weather Stations on July 14 found that over four in five Filipinos believe it is “not right” for the government to “leave China alone with its infrastructures and military presence in claimed territories.”
80 per cent also agreed that the government should take steps to strengthen the military, especially the Navy and nearly three quarters (74 per cent) thought that the issue should be brought to international organisations for diplomatic negotiations.
Trust in China was also found to be low, especially among those who knew about the West Philippine Sea conflict before taking part in the survey. Social Weather Stations found that trust in China had declined by 42 points since March 2018.
The survey was conducted from June 27-30, using face-to-face interviews of 1,200 adults across the Philippines.
The Duterte administration defended its approach to the South China Sea dispute on Monday.
“Duterte’s government is not guilty of inaction; we’re just not clamorous, but we have taken action when we see that China is doing something that violates our sovereignty and our rights,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
He also said the government has been silently protesting China’s aggression and military buildups in the West Philippine Sea, and assured citizens that Duterte would not give away the Philippines’ territories.
Duterte announced in December 2016 that he would be setting aside the landmark Hague ruling – which found that there was no legal basis for China’s “nine-dash line” claiming much of the South China Sea – in a bid to repair the relationship between the Philippines and China, which had suffered under his predecessor Benigno Aquino.
He has also repeatedly made it clear that he does not consider war an option, as it would result in a “massacre,” according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
China’s actions in the South China Sea, including militarisation, harassment of local fishermen within Philippine waters and damage to corals and clams, has raised the ire of many in the Philippines.
Major investments from China have also been a source of tension.
Last week, banners reading “welcome to the Philippines, province of China” were put up in parts of the country’s capital, Manila.
For maritime affairs expert Jay Batongbacal, the mocking tarpaulins mark “a turn in the intensity” of protests against Malacañang’s China policy, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported.
“It’s when the people begin to be like that—jovial and jok[ing] about the administration—that signals a loss of support and respect,” he added.