Worsening distrust

Former Senator

It’s a nagging issue that cannot simply be swept under the rug – an overwhelming majority of Filipinos just cannot trust China and they want our government to do more in asserting our country’s rights in the West Philippine Sea.

The latest poll results of the Social Weather Stations that came out in the news yesterday showed that the net trust rating of Filipinos for China dropped sharply to a “bad” -35 (18% much trust, 53 % little trust) in the nationwide survey taken on June 27 – 30. It was a 42-point drop and two grades down from the “neutral” +7 rating taken last March and December.

The news on the SWS survey, which also came out here in the Manila Bulletin, revealed “about eight in 10 Filipinos think it is not right that the government is doing nothing about China’s intrusion in claimed territories.”

And five days ago, Pulse Asia also released its own survey results showing that “73 percent of Filipinos want the Philippine government to assert its sovereignty claims as stipulated in the 2016 decision of the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration.”

The Pulse Asia poll, announced on the second anniversary of the 2016 arbitral ruling, revealed that only 7 percent of respondents disagreed when asked if they wanted the administration to assert the territorial rights of the Philippines while 17 percent were undecided.

The latest survey results of the country’s two major poll groups are no different from what we learned during an episode last March of DZMM’s teleradyo program, Magpayo Nga Kayo (9:30 – 10:30 am, Saturdays), which I co-host with veteran broadcaster May Valle Ceniza. In that particular episode, all of the program’s listeners and viewers who called, sent text messages, or posted comments on Facebook expressed their distrust of China.

The listeners’ reactions were very revealing, especially because not a single one of them had a kind word for China’s government despite the persistent stance of Duterte administration officials to pursue and nurture friendship with China.

From the DZMM audience feedback, it has become apparent that China’s actuations over the years have taken their toll on most Filipinos’ perception of our neighbor. Its “incursions” into Philippine territorial waters have firmed up the impression that China is a “greedy foreign power” which Filipinos have to be wary of because its friendly stance toward the Philippines at present is merely that of “a fox disguised in sheep’s clothing.”

Amid China’s expansionism, many ASEAN countries are wary and analysts are one in their view that “territorial disputes with Beijing in the South China Sea have cast our giant neighbor as an arrogant bully.”

The negative perception of China by an overwhelming majority of Filipinos indeed boils down to trust. When President Duterte started to float the idea in 2016 of an alliance with China while talking of terminating military ties with the US, many analysts viewed the idea as “unthinkable” for most Filipinos mainly due to cultural, social, and ideological reasons.

And Filipinos are also angry at insinuations that the Philippines has virtually become China’s “province.” The tarpaulin banners hanging on footbridges in many areas of Metro Manila last July 12 proclaiming, “Welcome to the Philippines, Province of China,” were apparently meant to shame the administration and obviously also meant as a satirical act, but administration officials and critics alike didn’t find it funny.

Even when the President said in jest last March that our country ought to become a “province” of China, many regarded it as a cruel joke and an insult to the heroic struggles of our forefathers against foreign invaders.

It is obvious that amid the deepening distrust of most Filipinos towards China, despite all the positive developments that have transpired between the Philippines and China since 2016, the efforts to pursue and nurture friendship between the two countries are not working to effectively lessen the negative attitude of the people toward the Chinese government.

And there is also the increasing need for our own government to do more in asserting our country’s rights amid continued “intrusions” into our territories. Ignoring the desire of a great majority of Filipinos for the government to act decisively on the nagging problems over the West Philippine Sea just would not make the issue go away.

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