Fewer Filipinos back gov't moves in South China Sea

MANILA, Philippines – Unlike in the past two years, fewer Filipinos support the Philippines' moves in its dispute with China over Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), a recent survey showed. 

In a Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey published Thursday, June 18, around 49% of respondents said they approve of the Philippine government's "actions regarding the tension" in Panatag.

Of the 49%, the breakdown is as follows:

So far, the Philippines' moves have included the following:

The SWS survey, conducted from March 20 to 23, shows a significant decline from previous ratings.

In September 2013, around 65% approved of the government's moves. In June 2014, around 62% posted their approval. 

The latest survey also showed an increase in the number of people who disapprove of the Philippines' moves. 

The survey said 46% of Filipinos disapprove of the government's actions in the disputed waters.

Of the 46%, the breakdown is as follows:

In September 2013, only 27% disapproved of the government's moves. In June 2014, around 32% did.

'Worried' about armed conflict

The March 2015 SWS survey also showed that 84% of respondents were "worried" about armed conflict with China.

About half were "worried a great deal," while more than a third were "somewhat worried."

The same poll has been conducted every year since 2012, and in each of the surveys at least 80% of respondents have been concerned that the sea dispute could escalate into a full-blown conflict with China.

"It is natural for us to worry about armed conflict as it is a fact that it does not benefit anyone," Philippine presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte told Agence France-Presse, reacting to the survey results.

"This is precisely why our government has pursued peaceful means to resolving the dispute," Valte said. 

The March 2015 SWS Survey had 1,200 adult respondents and a margin of error of +/- 3% for national results. 

'Incompetent officials' blamed

Another survey, conducted nearly two months after the SWS survey, showed that Filipinos remain divided on the means to resolve Manila's dispute with Beijing.

In a survey published by Philippine broadsheet The Standard, 53% of respondents said it "is better if the Aquino administration resolved this diplomatically."

In contrast, 47% said it "is better that the Aquino administration complained to the United Nations," according to the survey conducted by veteran pollster Junie Laylo.

The two surveys come as the Philippines prepares for oral arguments in its case against China before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, The Netherlands. 

At the same time, China has also ramped up construction of artificial islands in the area to reinforce its sovereignty claim over most of the sea, even waters close to the shores of its neighbors. (READ: IN PHOTOS: China's creeping expansion)

Party-list group Anakpawis on Friday, June 19, said the Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) should urgently seek the UN's help in stopping China's island building.

“We are about to lose not only our islands but also our sovereignty and dignity because of such highly incompetent government officials in the DFA and the Aquino administration is doing nothing to correct this," Anakpawis said in a statement. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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