MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang on Tuesday, November 20, questioned the timing and the findings of a just-released Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey that showed that most Filipinos continue to distrust China.
Presidential Spokesperson and Chief Presidential Counsel Salvador Panelo said in a statement that he found the release of the SWS survey on the morning of Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit "suspect."
"We find the timing of the release of the results of the survey conducted by Social Weather Stations (SWS) last September 15-23 suspect considering that such was made public on the day of Chinese President Xi Jing Ping’s first state visit to the Philippines," said Panelo said.
The SWS released the survey findings on its website past midnight on Tuesday, hours before Xi's scheduled arrival in Manila around noon.
Panelo said SWS' decision to release it at that time "adds credence to the commonly-held belief that polling firms could be wittingly or unwittingly used for partisan purposes."
The survey was held from September 15 to 23, as part of the Third Quarter 2018 Social Weather Survey. The SWS has been releasing various findings of the survey on a range of topics since a week after the survey period or September 29, while the last survey findings released prior to the poll on Filipinos' trust in foreign countries was on November 10.
Panelo also questioned the accuracy of the survey, claiming at least one question was slanted to give the impression that the Duterte administration is not pushing back on China's aggressive behavior in the West Philippine Sea.
In particular, Panelo pointed to one of 8 questions presented to respondents on the China issue.
"Pabayaan na lang ang Tsina na panatilihin ang mga imprastraktura at militar sa mga inaangking mga teritoryo – ay TAMA o HINDI TAMA na pamamaraan na gawin ng gobyerno ng Pilipinas upang malutas ang pagtatalo ng Pilipinas at Tsina tungkol sa West Philippine Sea?" he said, reading the survey question.
(Leave China alone with its infrastructures and military presence in the claimed territories – RIGHT or NOT RIGHT for the Philippine government to do in resolving the conflict between the Philippines and China about the West Philippine Sea?)
Malacañang, he said, considered the question "skewed" claiming "it misleads the public to believe and also suggests that the current government has not acted on China’s activities on the disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea."
While the Palace viewed "with skepticism" the survey results, it had no qualms highlighting one part of the results that looked favorable to the Duterte administration.
"It is noteworthy to mention that our people’s level of trust with China has improved dramatically since President Rodrigo Roa Duterte took office in 2016. It was -46 in September 2015 during the previous administration compared to -16 in September 2018 during the present administration," said Panelo.
It was also under the 3rd Quarter 2018 SWS survey where Duterte's public satisfaction rating bounced back.
Explaining Palace stance
Malacañang also sought to emphasize that the government is addressing China's activities in the West Philippine Sea.
It pointed to the bilateral consultations between the Philippines and China to resolve the sea disputes and strengthen cooperation in various areas, supposedly including the protection of Filipino fishermen.
"The Duterte administration has been consistent in its stance in protecting our territorial claims and maritime entitlements," said Panelo.
As for Filipinos' low level of trust in China as compared to their trust in the United States and Japan, the Palace said such results were to be expected.
The US and Japan are the Philippines' traditional allies "hence it is expected that there is higher level of trust in these two countries."
Panelo expressed optimism that the warmer ties with Beijing under the Duterte presidency will help Filipinos improve their understanding of China.
"It does not happen overnight but we are confident that a more favorable public appreciation of China would happen in the future," said Duterte's spokesman. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.