Panel Abstract

From Jet Ski to Concession: Filipino Opinion on Duterte’s Stance on the West Philippine Sea Dispute

During the height of the presidential campaign in 2016, then presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte boldly promised to ride a jet ski to the disputed territories of Spratly Islands or Scarborough Shoal to assert the Philippine sovereignty amid China’s occupation of the islands in the West Philippine Sea. 

But soon after he was elected in office, the bold promise did not happen. Instead, a policy of concession and accommodation became the forefront of his foreign policy on China relations. This stance has led to the expansion of China’s military structures, pilferage of the islands’ marine resources and harassment of Filipino fishermen by the Chinese coast guard and Chinese militia – the most recent of which was the ramming of the Filipino fishing vessel by Chinese militia. 

This paper discusses the public opinion of Filipinos on the current government stance on the West Philippine Sea dispute using the quarterly surveys of Social Weather Stations conducted among a minimum sample of 1,200 nationally-representative Filipino adults. The surveys found that: a) a large majority say that it is very/somewhat important that the Philippines regain control of the China-occupied islands; b) nine in ten say that is not right for the government to leave China alone with its infrastructure and military presence in the disputed territories; c) a large majority say that it is right to strengthen the capability of the Philippine military, especially the Navy; d) it is right to refer the issue to international organizations for a diplomatic and peaceful solution; and e) it is right to form alliances with other countries that are ready to help in defending the security of the country. But, the most notable among the survey findings is that despite the friendly relations of Pres. Duterte with China, majority still distrust China as a country.