7 in 10 Filipinos want Duterte to assert arbitral ruling in West PH Sea — survey

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 13) — Majority of Filipinos want President Rodrigo Duterte to assert the Philippines' sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea two years after the government won its case against China in an international arbitral tribunal, a private pollster revealed Thursday.

In a report, Pulse Asia said 73 percent of Filipinos agreed to the statement that the government must assert the 2016 ruling of a tribunal at The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration that invalidated China's sweeping claims over the disputed waters, including the West Philippine Sea.

It added 17 percent may agree and may disagree, 7 percent disagreed, 2 percent said they don't have enough knowledge to give an opinion and 0.4 percent said they don't know.

The figure is lower than the 84 percent recorded by Pulse Asia in a December 2016 survey.

Meanwhile, 36 percent of Filipinos believe the government should file a diplomatic protest with the Chinese Embassy in the Philippines against China's continuous militarization in the West Philippine Sea.

The survey was commissioned by Stratbase ADR Institute, and was conducted from June 15 to 21.

Vice President Leni Robredo said she is dismayed over the government's failure to press China to abide by the arbitral ruling, despite reports that Filipino fishermen are being bullied at the Scarborough Shoal.

"This is the time for us to peacefully protest any effort to limit or control movement in these waters. As neighbors and friends, we must stand up in opposition to military build ups in the West Philippine Sea," Robredo said in a forum Thursday.

Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio echoed the sentiment, hitting Duterte for not enforcing the ruling.

"Unfortunately for the Philippines, after the award was issued, President Rodrigo Duterte hemmed and hawed whether to demand compliance from China," Carpio said.

Carpio also urged the Armed Forces to conduct regular naval and aerial patrols in the country's Exclusive Economic Zone as a way of asserting sovereignty.

He added other countries could help enforce the ruling by holding freedom of navigation and overflight operations.

"If China can appropriate the South China Sea, their neighbors who are militarily stronger than them could also seize their Exclusive Economic Zones. In other words, the world has an interest in preserving the rule of law in the South China Sea," Carpio said.

However, more than rallying international support, Carpio said it is important to let Filipinos realize that sovereignty is priceless, putting pressure on the government to finally enforce the ruling.