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8 of 10 Filipinos want next president to assert rights over West PHL Sea

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Eight of 10 Filipinos want the next president to assert the country’s rights over the West Philippine Sea, according to a recent Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey commissioned by policy think tank Stratbase ADR Institute.

Results of the survey show that 82 percent of respondents nationwide believe that the next administration should enforce the decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration which recognizes the Philippines exclusive rights over the WPS and invalidated China’s claim of historic rights to resources within the ‘nine-dash line”.

It also found that 85 percent of respondents across the country want to seek an alliance with other countries to defend the Philippines’ economic and territorial rights.

Prof. Dindo Manhit, president of Stratbase ADR Institute, said in his remarks during Session 4 of Pilipinas Conference 2021 titled Advancing Multilateralism and Strategic Partnerships: 2022 Philippine Foreign and Security Policy Outlook that the next government leaders have the opportunity to rectify the current foreign policy.

“We need a more responsive foreign policy, built for strengthening our existing security partnerships,” he said.

The partnership with SWS allowed Stratbase to look at public opinion on issues regarding the West Philippine Sea. “This is what the evidence tells us. This is what our people feel,” Manhit said, referring to the results of the commissioned survey.

Data from the survey, conducted on Oct. 20 to 21 this year, show that respondents from the National Capital Region were most passionate about the issue, with 87 percent agreeing that the government should make China abide by the ruling of the international tribunal based in The Hague.

About 88 percent of respondents from the NCR and from the balance of Luzon also want the next president to seek allies among other countries.

Nationwide, respondents said the next president should strengthen the Philippine military’s capability especially the Navy and the Coast Guard (80 percent), conduct joint maritime patrols and military exercises with allies (65 percent), and fully implement the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (58 percent).

About 79 percent of respondents feel that it is important for the government to build infrastructure on vacant islands in the WPS. Only 8 percent felt the matter was not important.

The survey’s data also show that 85 percent agree that the next president should form alliances with other countries in defending territorial and economic rights in the WPS.

Respondents named the United States as the Philippines’ most trusted ally at 75 percent, followed by Australia and the United Kingdom (each 52 percent).  Only 21 percent of respondents had much trust in China, with 55 percent saying they had little trust in the East Asian giant.

In his keynote address during the conference session, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana acknowledged that China remains aggressive in its claims, seriously challenging the Philippines’ interest in the area.

“Should the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must? I think not. The strong cannot just run over the small states,” he said.

Lorenzana said there is more incentive for countries, especially those with mutual interests, to band together as the Indo-Pacific region faces more uncertainties.

“The Philippines therefore should take a more active role in promoting multilateralism. It should lead and call on ASEAN to be more proactive in asserting the interests of its member-states, instead of being a passive stakeholder,” he said.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said multilateralism and strategic partnerships are sources of added strength in international relations.

He said multilateral cooperation is vital in addressing terrorism, transnational crime, cybercrime, and other threats that are near impossible to track down and turn off conclusively.

“Though the foremost consideration is to build up a strictly national defense—smartly navigated and wisely optimized—all these can empower us to achieve foreign policy goals of material, strategic, even existential importance,” he said.

“It would be wise for the Philippines to bring out its score card and evaluate existing multilateral engagements and strategic partnerships on the basis of national interest and an envisioned global future,” said Locsin.

Image courtesy of Philippine Coast Guard via AP

Read full article on BusinessMirror

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