Nearly 9 of 10 Filipinos want PH to assert its rights over islands in West PH Sea – poll

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 12) — Nearly nine out of 10 Filipinos want the Philippines to assert its rights over islands in the West Philippine Sea, a new poll showed.

A June 2019 survey conducted by private pollster Social Weather Stations (SWS) revealed that 87 percent of 1,200 Filipinos agree that the government should assert its rights to islands in the South China Sea claimed by the Philippines as stated in the 2016 decision of an international tribunal backed by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.

Only five percent of Filipinos disagreed to this, while nine percent were undecided.

However, the poll also found that 71 percent of Filipinos believe that the government is serious in protecting Filipino fishermen against foreign vessels.

It also found that 87 percent of adult Filipinos want Chinese fishermen who destroy marine resources in those waters should be arrested.

The questions on asserting rights to islands in the West Philippine Sea and arresting erring Chinese fishermen were commissioned by Stratbase ADR Institute, the consultancy firm of former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario.

This poll came a day after the release of a July survey, also conducted by the SWS, which found that 74 percent of Filipinos believe that it is important to gain back control of features in the West Philippine Sea which are occupied by China.

The newly-released survey was published on the third anniversary of the Hague ruling, which struck down China’s sweeping claims over virtually the entire South China Sea and held that the Asian giant violated the Philippines’ rights over waters in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The ruling only dealt with the Philippines’ exclusive rights over its EEZ, an area 200-nautical miles from a country’s shore where it has sole rights to exploit resources there. It did not touch on territorial issues as the tribunal did not have jurisdiction over these matters.

'Duterte risking waiving arbitral ruling'

Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who was part of the Philippine delegation to The Hague for Manila’s case against China before the arbitral tribunal, warned that the Duterte administration's actions "risked waiving or diminishing the award."

Among these is Duterte's recent revelation that he had struck a deal with Chinese President Xi Jinping to allow Chinese fishermen into Recto Bank, in exchange for allowing Filipinos back into Scarborough Shoal, which had been under Beijing’s control following a 2012 standoff.

"This will, of course, substantially diminish the arbitral award, a self-inflicted blow to our sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea. We must therefore do everything to convince the present Administration not to confirm or ratify the supposed verbal agreement with China," Carpio said.

West Philippine Sea. We must therefore do everything to convince the present Administration not to confirm or ratify the supposed verbal agreement with China," Carpio said.

Legal experts have said that Duterte’s agreement with Xi is "unconstitutional" that could be a case for his impeachment.

He added that the Duterte administration has done "absolutely nothing" to enforce the ruling over "misleading" reasons like the Philippines' friendship with China and the supposed threat of war by Beijing against Manila.

"How can a country that has committed obviously unfriendly acts against the Philippines, and continues to do so, be considered a friend of the Philippines?" Carpio said.

Meanwhile, Del Rosario said setting the arbitral ruling aside would expose the Philippines to more harassment and bullying in the South China Sea.

Duterte has made a pivot to China and has repeatedly downplayed its incursions in the West Philippine Sea. Recently, he characterized the incident of a Chinese vessel ramming into a Filipino fishing boat in Recto Bank, a sea feature inside Manila’s EEZ, as “very small” because “nobody died.”

As he faces increasing pressure to assert the Philippines' sovereign rights in its EEZ, Duterte has blamed the United States for allegedly doing nothing despite its military might while China was building artificial islands in Philippine-claimed areas in the South China Sea. Last week he dared the U.S. "to fire the first shot" and start a war with China.

CNN Philippines Correspondent Anjo Alimario contributed to this report.