Poll: Most Filipinos support stance of Marcos against China in sea dispute

The Philippine president’s approval rating jumped 15 points in the poll held Sept. 30 to Oct. 4 from July.
By BenarNews staff
2023.12.28
Manila
Poll: Most Filipinos support stance of Marcos against China in sea dispute Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. (second from right) inspects a C-130T Special Airborne Mission Installation and Response aircraft, presented as a grant by the U.S. government, at the Haribon Hangar in Clark Air Base in Pampanga, March 31, 2023.
[Handout / Presidential Photographers Association/via AFP]

A majority of Filipinos support President Ferdinand Marcos’ assertive stance in dealing with Beijing on the South China Sea issue, a survey released Thursday said.

The survey held from Sept. 30 to Oct. 4 showed that Marcos’ approval rating of 58% jumped 15 points from July when Manila pollster OCTA Research Group conducted its previous poll.

“This represents a significant 15-point increase from the 43% recorded in the second quarter,” the pollster said in its report that surveyed 1,200 people about their opinion on Marcos’ policies in dealing with the West Philippine Sea, which is Manila’s name for South China Sea waters within its exclusive economic zone.

The latest survey period coincided with reports of the Chinese Coast Guard’s alleged harassment of Filipino vessels delivering provisions to troops at its military outpost on Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal in the South China Sea.

Marcos, who took office last year, reversed his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte’s pro-China policies, realigning with the United States and granting American troops greater access to Philippine bases.

A “significant majority” of Filipinos surveyed for the latest OCTA poll said they favored a dual approach of “diplomacy and military action” in asserting Manila’s territorial rights in the West Philippine Sea.

Diplomacy was favored by 70% to secure territorial claims, while 65% backed military measures, including “expanded naval patrols and troop presence.”

Additional preferred strategies included strengthening military defenses (62%), conducting joint maritime patrols with allies (42%), expanding diplomatic efforts (42%), and exploring joint economic solutions (17%).

Earlier this year, Manila launched bilateral patrols with the United States and Australia in the West Philippine Sea. The Southeast Asian nation is preparing to collaborate with France, Canada, the U.K., India, and New Zealand on similar patrols, officials said.

Ray Powell, a retired U.S. Air Force officer and a commentator on regional maritime affairs, said the Duterte government had been soft in dealing with China and preferred bilateral talks to ease tension.

“All of a sudden, the rest of the world is seeing this level of maritime aggression from China and recognizing that this has been going on for quite some time, and we haven’t been paying attention,” Powell told Manila cable television station ANC last week.

He said the Philippines’ engagement with other nations has brought the country support from the international community.

“If Beijing looks at the Philippines as an isolated country, it will always think that it has the edge. But if it looks at the Philippines as part of a large network of like-minded security partners who are willing to make real material sacrifices for Manila, that changes Beijing’s calculus a great deal,” he said.

Permanent structures

Meanwhile, the Philippine armed forces spokesman, Col. Medel Aguilar, on Thursday confirmed that the government has allotted 100 million pesos (U.S. $1.81 million) to construct permanent military and civilian structures on Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.

Manila’s military outpost on the shoal is a rusty old navy ship, BRP Sierra Madre, which the government deliberately ran aground there in 1999.

Aguilar said that the construction of structures on the shoal would need the cooperation of several agencies because part of the structures will include civilian shelters for fisherfolk.

“We will be ready to perform our task when the implementation of the project starts,” Col. Medel Aguilar, the Filipino military spokesperson, told reporters.

Separately, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and his Philippine counterpart Enrique Manalo spoke over the phone and discussed ongoing tension in the South China Sea, both sides said Thursday.

Manalo said Manila’s interest in protecting “its sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction while maintaining peace and security and upholding the rules-based international order.”

Blinken underscored Washington’s “ironclad commitment” to the Philippines under the Mutual Defense Treaty.

Signed in 1951, the treaty calls on both countries to aid each other in times of aggression by an external power.

“Secretary Blinken and Secretary Manalo also exchanged ideas on how to reinforce U.S.-Philippines cooperation in the coming year, building on President Marcos’s official working visit to Washington, D.C., this past May,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement.

Jeoffrey Maitem contributed to this report from Davao City, southern Philippines.

BenarNews is an online news outlet affiliated with Radio Free Asia.

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