MANILA (UPDATE) - Nearly 90 percent of Filipinos believe the government should assert its claims in the West Philippine Sea and arrest Chinese fishermen destroying marine life in the disputed waters, a recent Social Weather Stations survey showed.
Of 1,200 adult respondents, 87 percent agreed that the "government should assert its right to disputed islands in the West Philippine Sea as stipulated in the 2016 decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration," the study showed.
Meanwhile, 5 percent of respondents did not agree, while 9 percent were undecided.
The West Philippine Sea is the country's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the South China Sea, which China claims in near entirety. On July 12, 2016, exactly three years ago, a United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal invalidated China's nine-dash line claim in the waters, in favor of a Philippine plea.
Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have partial claims in the resource-rich waters, a strategic sea route where $3 billion worth of goods pass annually.
The survey found that 87 percent also backed the proposition that Philippine officials should "arrest and prosecute Chinese fishermen causing the destruction of marine resources in the West Philippine Sea."
The survey, conducted from June 22 to 26, was released on the third anniversary of the Philippines' arbitral victory against China. The Duterte administration has shelved the ruling as it pursued enhanced trade ties with China despite the unresolved maritime dispute.
China has continued its militarization and island-building activities in the South China Sea, encroaching into the country's EEZ.
In April, ABS-CBN News saw several Chinese fishermen uprooting giant clams near Scarborough Shoal. The harvesting led to the destruction of coral reefs in the area.
Last month, a Chinese vessel hit a Filipino fishing boat off the Recto (Reed) Bank and abandoned the 22 fishermen who were left at sea after the boat capsized. They were later rescued by a Vietnamese vessel.
China has denied that the incident was intentional, while the Philippine government has cast doubt on the Filipino fishermen's narration, citing conflicting versions.
Despite these incidents, 71 percent of Filipinos say "the government is serious in protecting Filipino fishermen against foreign vessels," the SWS survey showed.
Fifteen percent said the government was "not serious" in safeguarding the rights of Filipinos in the disputed area, while 15 percent remain undecided.
The survey has an error margin of +/- 3 percent, SWS said.
Malacañang slammed the survey, saying it "assumes that (the government has) not asserted (Filipinos') rights over the disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea."
"This Administration has asserted our rights over the same. There are many ways of asserting such rights," Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said.
Panelo reiterated that "aggressively asserting" claims in the West Philippine Sea would "trigger armed hostilities that can develop into a full-blown war."
Malacañang has made statements allowing China to fish in Philippine waters, sparking a backlash from critics and the opposition.