MANILA – Public approval over the Duterte government’s performance in protecting the country’s territory has taken a hit, according to Pulse Asia.
Pulse Asia’s Ulat ng Bayan survey, conducted from March 15 to 20, 2017, showed public approval over the government’s defense of the country’s territory against foreigners declining by 8 percentage points, from 65% in December 2016 to 58% in March 2017.
“The Duterte administration records majority approval ratings on most issues on which it is performance-rated in March 2017; there are hardly any movements in the administration’s performance ratings between December 2016 and March 2017 except for the 8-percentage point decline in the level of approval for its efforts to defend national territorial integrity,” Pulse Asia said in its report.
President Duterte has drawn flak from critics for his friendly stance towards China, which is claiming almost the entire South China Sea and has established artificial islands in the Spratlys archipelago, which is close to the Philippine island province of Palawan.
Since assuming the presidency, Duterte has sought to downplay Manila’s legal victory over Beijing with regard to the South China Sea. He said the Philippines cannot match China’s military might and should just instead pursue an invigorated economic ties with its wealthy neighbor.
His policy towards China was the subject of a supplemental impeachment complaint filed against him by Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano, who said Duterte "has taken a defeatist stance and openly signaled China to go ahead with whatever it intends to do in the West Philippine Sea.”
In an apparent change of tack, Duterte last week ordered to occupy all islands of the Philippines in the South China Sea to strengthen the country's claims, alarming Beijing.
Defense and military officials later clarified that the Philippines will only upgrade existing facilities on its inhabited islands and reefs in the South China Sea and not occupy new territories, adhering to a 2002 informal code in the disputed waters.
In a follow-up to his earlier pronouncement, Duterte today said he had ordered the military to reinforce areas in the South China Sea controlled by Manila to maintain the geopolitical balance, and assured China no "offensive weapons" would be placed there.
Duterte said the Philippines wanted peace and friendship with China but also said he wanted the Philippines to bolster what territory it had in the Spratly archipelago as islands and reefs are grabbed in the disputed waterway. However, he said the Philippines would not engage in any military buildup.
Pulse Asia noted that the Duterte administration received majority approval ratings on 11 of the 12 issues included in the survey's performance probe.
These issues are fighting criminality (79%), responding to calamities (77%), protecting the welfare of OFWs (71%), fighting graft and corruption in government (70%), increasing peace in the country (69%), stopping the abuse of environment (68%), enforcing the law on all (68%), creating more jobs (58%), defending the country’s territorial integrity (57%), improving workers’ pay (55%), and reducing poverty of many Filipinos (50%).
The only issue where the government failed to get a majority approval is controlling inflation (45%).
However, Pulse Asia noted that while the administration continues to enjoy majority approval ratings in the mentioned issues, “the decline in the levels of appreciation for the present leadership’s work in the areas of fighting criminality and corruption (-5 and -6 percentage points, respectively) and the level of indecision for its performance in the area of protecting the national territory from foreigners (+6 percentage points) are worth noting as these border closely to the overall survey error margin (+/- 3 percentage points).”
The quarterly survey is based on a sample of 1,200 representative adults 18 years old and above. It has a ± 3% error margin at the 95% confidence level.
Subnational estimates for each of the geographic areas covered in the survey (i.e., Metro Manila, the rest of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao) have a ± 6% error margin, also at 95% confidence level. - with Reuters