Cabaero: Surprises and non-surprises

Cabaero: Surprises and non-surprises
Art by John Montecillo

The recent Pulse Asia survey on Filipinos’ views regarding the China issue produced mostly expected results, with at least one notable surprise.

It is unsurprising that the majority of survey participants preferred diplomacy over aggression in the dispute over the West Philippine Sea. Even militarily strong and well-positioned countries typically prefer peaceful solutions over going to war.

The surprise, however, was that only a small portion of respondents (8 percent) believed it necessary to include the United States in a military response. Given the recent military exercises and displays of strength alongside Filipino soldiers in war games and other simulations, one might have expected that reaching out to the United States would be a popular option.

However, the majority felt that diplomatic and international resolutions to the conflict were preferable.

On the survey question on what China could do to ease tensions, respondents were given five choices and told to choose as many as possible. Pulse Asia said 64 percent prefer that a code of conduct govern the actions of claimants, 61 percent said that China should remove its coast guard and militia vessels in “our territory and maritime areas that based on international law are part of our exclusive economic zone,” and 49 percent want China to pay “appropriate damages” for the destruction of coral reefs in the West Philippine Sea.

On the question of what the “most effective” measure could be to reduce tension between the two countries, the respondents were told to choose only one from five options. Of the respondents, 41 percent said the Philippines should continue its diplomatic discussions with China towards developing a code of conduct to guide both parties, 33 percent favored proposing a resolution to the United Nations General Assembly for the body to force China to comply with the 2016 arbitral ruling awarded to the Philippines, and 17 percent said the Philippines and China should agree on a mediator who will propose a pact between the two countries.

Only 8 percent said the Philippines should invoke the Mutual Defense Treaty between the Philippines and the United States where both countries come to the aid of the other if attacked, and request military support from the United States.

This is the first survey to explore Filipinos’ sentiments on various options for settling the conflict. The results reflect a peace-loving nation, despite China’s aggressive actions.

There are claims of a divide within President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s Cabinet over the country’s response to China’s aggressive actions last month when members of the China Coast Guard attacked Philippine Navy soldiers. One Filipino soldier was injured in what was described as the most violent assault so far by China. There is even talk of some sectors calling for the resignation of Defense Secretary Gibo Teodoro.

The survey results should guide the government as it considers the next steps in responding to any escalation of China’s actions against our soldiers.

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