Filipino Media and Public Opinion on the Philippines-China Disputes in the South China Sea: A Preliminary Analysis

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This paper shares preliminary findings from a review of public opinion and the views of various stakeholders in the Philippines, in response to tensions in relations with China arising from conflicting claims to territory and maritime rights and
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   FilipinoMediaandPublicOpiniononthePhilippines-ChinaDisputesintheSouthChinaSea:APreliminaryAnalysis 1  SaschaM.Gallardo&AileenS.P.Baviera 2 UniversityofthePhilippines Introduction Theroleofthepressinpoliticsorgovernancehasbeenwidelydiscussedandforquitealongperiodoftime.MarkHampton,forexample,explainedhowthepressinitiallygainedthestatusofbeinga“fourthestate”intheeighteenthcenturywhereby--althoughnotprovidedforbytheconstitution--thepressenjoyedacertainformofpowerbecauseofitsrelationshipwiththepublicorreaders.Itwasthoughteventhenthatthepressservesasavenuetodiscussdifferingideasinordertocomeupwiththe‘truth’orthatwhichwillbenefiteveryone. 3 Whenevertheroleofthemediaisdiscussed,itisalmostalwaysinrelationtodemocracy.Itisevenbelievedthatfordemocracytoexist,theremustbethepresenceofafreepress. 4 Itisthemediathatguaranteetheresponsibilityofthegovernment 5 ,bridgethepeopleandthegovernmentandthereforeencouragediscussiontowardstheimprovementofgovernmentpolicies. 6 Thisroleofbeinga“watchdog”and“guardianofpublicinterest”continuestobeplayednotonlybythepressbutbythemediaingeneralevenuptothepresenttime. 7 IntheAsianregion,Philippinemediaisconsideredagoodexampleofapressthatservessuchapurpose.Asiswidelyknown,“PhilippinemediaisamongtheoldestandthemostfreeinAsia” 8 anditstopjournalistsarealsowell-knownfortheiraggressiveness. 9 ThatthemediaaffectpublicopinionandpoliticsinthePhilippinesisanunderstatementconsideringitsroleintopplingtwoformerpresidentsFerdinandMarcosin1986andJosephEjercitoEstradain2001.  1  Paperpresentedatthe4thInternationalWorkshopon"TheSouthChinaSea:CooperationforRegionalSecurityandDevelopment",organizedbytheDiplomaticAcademyoftheVietnamandtheVietnamLawyers’Association,18-21November2012,HoChiMinhCity,Vietnam.   2 Dr.AileenS.P.BavieraisaprofessorofAsianStudiesandInternationalRelations,whileSaschaM.Gallardoisaresearcher,bothattheAsianCenter,UniversityofthePhilippines. 3 MarkHampton,“TheFourthEstateIdealinJournalismHistory,”in TheRoutledgeCompaniontoNewsand Journalism ,ed.StuartAllan(LondonandNewYork:Routledge,2012),3. 4 SheilaS.Coronel,“TheRoleoftheMediainDeepeningDemocracy,” UnitedNationsOnlineNetworkinPublicAdministrationandFinance ,2004,AccessedDecember30,2012,http://unpan1.un.org/intradoc/groups/public/documents/un/unpan010194.pdf ,p.4. 5 Ibid.,4. 6 Ibid.,5. 7 Ibid. 8 RaulPertierra, TheNewMedia,Society&PoliticsinthePhilippines (Berlin:fesmediaAsia,2012)accessedDecember30,2012,http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/bueros/asia-media/09241.pdf ,p.13 9 Ibid.,13  2 Asademocracy,thePhilippinegovernmenthastopayattentiontopublicopinionintheformulationofforeignpolicies.Massmediaperformsseveralfunctionsinademocraticstate,particularlyinconnectingpublicopinionwiththemanagementofstateaffairs.Amongitsfunctionswhichmayberelevanttothemanagementofforeignpolicycrisesare:1)educatingthepublic,raisingawarenessandpromotingdiscoursesonimportantissues,2)transmissionofgovernment’smessagestodomesticconstituenciesandthegeneralpublic,and3)asamechanismforthepublictoprovidefeedbacktogovernmentaboutitspoliciesandactions.ThispapersharespreliminaryfindingsfromareviewofpublicopinionandtheviewsofvariousstakeholdersinthePhilippines,inresponsetotensionsinrelationswithChinaarisingfromconflictingclaimstoterritoryandmaritimerightsandjurisdiction.Itdrawslargelyfromopenmediasources,andcoverstheyears2011-2012,significantbecauseoftwomajorincidentsthatledtocrisesinPhilippines-Chinabilateralrelations.ThefirstincidentoccurredinMarch2011,inthewakeofanannouncementbythePhilippinesthatitwouldcommenceoilandgasexplorationactivitiesintheReedBank,asubmergedareaoffshoreofitsPalawanprovinceandwellwithinthePhilippineExclusiveEconomicZoneandContinentalShelf.ForumEnergyPlc,aBritish-registeredfirmoperatingunderPhilippinecontract,hadsenttheMVVeritasVoyager,aFrench-owned,Singapore-registeredsurveyvesseltotheReedBank,wheretwoChinesepatrolboatsapproachedit,orderedittoleaveandmaneuveredasifthreateningtoramthevessel.Apprisedofthis,Philippineauthoritiesrespondedbydispatchingtwosmallaircrafttoinvestigate,butfoundthattheChineseboatshadalreadydeparted.TheDepartmentofForeignAffairshandedaprotesttotheChineseembassy,stating,amongotherthingsthatReedBankwasnotdisputedterritory. 10 ThisincidentwassignificantforthePhilippinesbecauseitdirectlychallengeditsrighttouseresourcesthatitconsideredtobeunderitsmaritimejurisdiction,andhadsomebearingonthecountry’senergysecurityprogram.ChineseactionsintheReedBankwerealsonotablyconsistentwithpreviousincidentsintheSouthChinaSeawheretheirshipshadcutthecablesofVietnameseexplorationvessels,andreportedattemptsin2007and2008tointimidateforeignoilcompanies(BPandExxonMobil)againstworkingwithVietnam,withthethreatthattheirbusinessinterestsinChinawouldotherwisesuffer 11 .WhenthepreviousPhilippinegovernmentunderGloriaArroyoallowedin2004theinclusionoftheReedBankinatrilateral‘non-governmental’agreementamongthestate-ownedoilcompaniesofthePhilippines,VietnamandChinatoconductpre-explorationresearchincertainareasoftheSouthChinaSea,shewasseverelycriticizedandevenaccusedoftreasonbysomequartersinherowncountry.AgainstthisbackdrophersuccessorBenignoAquinoIII,addressingtheissueofjointdevelopmentaftertheMVVeritasVoyagerincident,wasquotedassaying:“Whatisoursisours,andwithwhatis  10  TessaJamandre,“ChinafiredatFilipinofishermeninJacksonatoll,”  ABS - CBNNews ,June3,2011,AccessedSeptember10,2012,http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/-depth/06/02/11/china-fired-filipino-fishermen-jackson-atoll  11  EnergyandGeopoliticsintheSouthChinaSea:ImplicationsforASEANanditsDialoguePartners. ASEANStudiesCentreReportNo.8(Singapore:InstituteforSoutheastAsianStudies,2009).   3 disputed,wecanworktowardsjointcooperation.”HeblamedtheArroyogovernment’smisguidedsupportforthejointseismicresearchasresponsibleforrecentproblemswithChina.Tofurthersetthingsstraight,ForeignSecretarydelRosario,inanop-edpublishedsimultaneouslyinmajorPhilippinedailiesinJune2011clarifiedthepositionoftheAquinogovernmentonReedBank:“SincetheRecto(Reed)Bankisours,itcanonlybeexclusivelydevelopedbythePhilippines.ThePhilippinesmayhoweverinviteforeigninvestorstoassistindevelopingtheareainaccordancewithPhilippinelaws.” 12 ThesecondcrisisinrelationsoccurredinApril2012,whenPhilippinenavalauthoritiesinterceptedChinesefishermenaboardeightvesselsinthevicinityofScarboroughShoal(PanatagorBajodeMasinloc).Theshoalisfarawayfromthelong-disputedSpratlysandtherecentlycontroversialReedBankarea.Uponinspection,someofthevesselsturnedupcorals,livesharksandgiantclams,thecaptureofwhichwasprohibitedunderPhilippinelawsaswellastheCITES(ConventiononInternationalTradeinEndangeredSpecies).TwoChinesemaritimeauthorityvesselsarrivedandpositionedthemselvesbetweenthePhilippinenavyshipandthefishermen,thusreportedlypreventingtheirarrest(asithadbeenapastpracticebythePhilippinesidetoarrestthoseengagedinillegalfishing).Sincethematterwasafisheriesconcern,thePhilippineNavyeventuallywithdrewitsshipandManilainsteadsentaCoastGuardvesselandaFisheriesBureauvesseltohandlethematter.However,theChinesepatrolshipswouldnotleavetheshoal,infactaddingonemoreshipthefollowingday.Thusastandoffaroseinvolvingcivilianofficialvesselsofthetwosides,lastingfromearlyApriluntilJune.AroundthesetwoincidentstherewasmuchpublicreactionandcommentaryonthePhilippineside.OfficialsoftheAquinogovernment,includingthePresidenthimselfandmoreprominentlytheSecretaryofForeignAffairs,initiallytookapostureofarticulatingandexplainingthepositionstotheFilipinopublicthroughmassmedia 13 .Atit-for-tatwordwarbetweenthetwocountriesbrokeoutasChinesemediaprovidedwidelatitudetonationalistsentimentscriticizingthePhilippines.ThesewereinturnwidelycoveredinthePhilippines,thussparkinganaction-reactionsituationwherebothsidesaccusedtheotherofbullyingandintimidation.Chinawas,intheeyesofFilipinos,waginganall-outpropagandawarbothtointimidatethePhilippinesandtounderminethePhilippines’credibilityintheeyesoftheinternationalcommunity.OutstandingexamplesofthiswerestatementspublishedineditorialsoftheCommunistParty’sofficialorganPeople’sDailyandthequasi-officialGlobalTimes(alsoownedbythePeople’sDaily),conveyingthefollowingmessages:thatthePhilippinesshouldbe“punished”(forofferingtohostmoreUStroops) 14 ,“taughta  12 AlbertdelRosario,“ARules-BasedRegimeinTheSouthChinaSea”,http://www.dfa.gov.ph/index.php/messages/3141-a-rules-based-regime-in-the-south-china-sea-by-albert-f-del-rosario-secretary-of-foreign-affairs.  13  Oneexampleisthisop-edpublishedinPhilippinedailies:http://cogitasia.com/philippine-foreign-secretary-del-rosario-on-the-south-china-se/ 14 AgenceFrance-Presse.“ChinashouldpunishthePhilippinesoverU.S.offer–report”.January29th,2012.AccessedNovember1,2012.http://globalnation.inquirer.net/24481/china-should-punish-philippines-over-us-offer-%E2%80%93-report  4 lesson” 15 ,will“facedueconsequences” 16 includinga“small-scalewar” 17 ,shouldnot“playwithfire” 18 ,andthatChinashould“cutbusinesslinks”withManila 19 .ThemostcontroversialeditorialfromGlobalTimescameoutinOctober25,2011,evenbeforetheScarboroughShoalstandoff,warningthecountriesinvolvedintheSouthChinaSeadisputeto“mentallyprepareforthesoundsofcannons.”(ChineseForeignMinistryspokeswomanJiangYuhoweversaidthattheeditorialdoesnotrepresenttheChinesegovernment’sposition). 20 Thesestatements,whilenotcompletelyrepresentativeofthereportingontheissueinthesetwoChinesepapers,werewidelyquotedandplayedupinPhilippinemediaasfurtherevidenceofChinese“bullying”.Thisledacolumnistandnowpublisherofthelargestdaily,PhilippineDailyInquirertoaskaquestionnowuppermostinthemindsofmanyFilipinos:“WhateverhappenedtoChina’smuch-touted‘peacefulrise’?Sincewhendiditbecomevicious,andwhy?” 21  PublicOpinionHighlights Inthissection,theopinionoftheFilipinopublicinrelationtotheReedBankandScarboroughShoalincidentsin2011and2012wereexamined.ThiswasdonebyanalyzingrelevantsurveypollsofSocialWeatherStationsandLayloResearchStrategies,opinionarticlesofonlinenewsoutletsofthethreebiggestnewsdailies(PhilippineStar:www.philstar.com;PhilippineDailyInquirer:www.inquirer.net;andManilaBulletin:www.mb.com.ph),aswellasGMANewsOnline(www.gmanetwork.com/news/) 22 ,andRappler(www.rappler.com) 23 .OpinionarticlesconcernedwiththeMarch2011RectoBank  15 “TimetoteachthosearoundSouthChinaSeaalesson,” GlobalTimes ,September29,2011.http://www.globaltimes.cn/NEWS/tabid/99/ID/677717/Time-to-teach-those-around-South-China-Sea-a-lesson.aspx 16 “People'sDailywarnsofconsequencesoverSouthChinaSeaissue,”  Xinhuanet.com, August2,2011,accessedOctober15,2012,http://news.xinhuanet.com/english2010/china/2011-08/02/c_131025164.htm 17 ChristineO.Avendaño,DJYap,JerryE.Esplanada,“Chinadailywarnsof‘small-scalewar’withPhilippines,” PhilippineDailyInquirer  ,April25,2012,accessedOctober6,2012,http://globalnation.inquirer.net/34627/china-daily-warns-of-small-scale-war-with-philippines  18 “Don'tplaywithfire,” ChinaDaily, updatedApril12,2012,accessedOctober15,2012,http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/opinion/2012-04/12/content_15028039.htm 19 “ChinacallsforcalmafterPhilippineoffertoUS," Infowars.com ,January31,2012,accessedOctober15,2012,http://www.infowars.com/china-calls-for-calm-after-philippine-offer-to-us/ 20 JiangYuwasquotedassaying:"China'smediahavetherighttofreelysaywhattheylike,butwehopethattheyplayaconstructiveroleanddeliveratruthfulmessage” .See “SoundsofCannons”WarningonSouthChinaSeaDispute,” NDTV.org, Oct26,2011,AccessedSeptember10,2012,http://ntdtv.org/en/news/china/2011-10-26/-sounds-of-cannons-warning-on-south-china-sea-dispute.html);“Chinapaperwarnsof‘soundofcannons’inseadisputes,” Reuters, Oct11,2011,accessedSeptember10,2012,http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/10/25/us-china-seas-idUSTRE79O1MV20111025. 21 RaulC.Pangalangan,“ASEAN:Noelephantintheroom,” PhilippineDailyInquirer  ,July20,2012,AccessedOctober6,2012,http://opinion.inquirer.net/32959/asean-no-elephant-in-the-room 22 Onlinenewseditionofoneofthecountry’slargesttelevisionnetworks. 23 Rappler.comdescribesitselfas“asocialnewsnetworkwherestoriesinspirecommunityengagementanddigitallyfuelledactionsforsocialchange”,composedof“veteranjournaliststrainedinbroadcast,printandwebdisciplinesworkingwithyoung,idealisticdigitalnativeseagertoreportandfindsolutionstoproblems.”Seehttp://www.rappler.com/about-rappler/about-us/385-about-rappler    5 incidentandtheApril2012ScarboroughShoalincidentwereincludedintheanalysis.WritersofthesaidpiecesincludecolumniststhatareobserversofPhilippinegovernments’foreignpolicy,formergovernmentofficialsandformerdiplomats,academicians,lawyers,studentsandpoliticalactivists.Theblogsofaregularforeignpolicycommentator(www.ellentordesillas.com)werealsoexamined,aswereeditorialsandwrite-upsofunaffiliatedindividuals.PrimaryattentionoftheresearchwasfocusedongatheringopinionsontheforeignpolicyofthePhilippinegovernment,andonpoliciesandactionsofPresidentBenignoAquinoIIIandhisadministration(specificallyofficialsofDepartmentofNationalDefenseandtheDepartmentofForeignAffairs).CommentsaboutthepoliciesofthePeoples’RepublicofChinaandtheUnitedStateswerealsosurveyed. I.OpinionaboutthegeneralforeignpolicyapproachofthePhilippineGovernmentinrelationtotheterritorialdisputes ManyofthearticlesreviewedconsiderthePhilippinegovernment’sforeignpolicyasweakandlackinginstrategicplanningingeneral.Theviewthatitisweak,however,canbeseenintwoaspects.Ontheonehand,itisconsideredweakbecauseofthelackofmilitaryordefensecapabilitiestobackupgovernmentinassertingtheterritorialclaims.WhilethegovernmentiscommendedforpursuingadiplomaticorpeacefultrackintheresolutionofitsterritorialdisputeswithChina,anumbercommentedthatthePhilippineshasnootherchoicesinceitdoesnothavethecapabilitytofaceChinamilitarily.ThisviewpointwasexpressedbothduringtheReedBankincidentandtheScarboroughShoalStandoff.InhisJune17,2011columninPhilippineStar,forexample,alawyer–columnistcommentedthat“Obviouslybasedonourcountry’smilitarysizeandcapabilitieswecannotgotowarwithChina.Hencethebettermovesstillconsistofexhaustingallpeacefulandfriendlymeanstosolvethisproblem….” 24 Ontheotherhand,theadjective“weak”wasalsousedtorefertothegovernment’sstancewhenfacedwithproblemsthatchallengeterritorialsovereignty.Thistermalsoreferredtoofficials’lackofpoliticalwillandnegligence.MostarticlesofthistoneexpressworrythatthecountrymightloseScarboroughShoalthesamewayMischiefReefwaslosttoChinain1995.TheApril24,2012EditorialofthePhilippineStarisacaseinpoint.ComparingtheactionsofthePhilippinegovernment—orthelackofit—toasserttheclaimoverMischiefReefin1995andScarboroughShoalin2012,theeditorialhighlightedsimilaritiessuchasthegovernment’sinabilitytohalttheexpansionofwhatChinacalled“sheltersforitsfishermen”intheformeranditsfailureto“confiscatethebanneditems”(corals,giantclams,livesharks)andallowingtheChinese’sboatstoleavethevicinityinthelatter.Theeditorialcautionedthat“IfthatisthewaythePhilippinesenforcesitsterritorial   24 JoseC.Sison,“Historicrightandlegaltitle,” PhilippineStar  ,June17,2011,AccessedOctober7,2012,http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=696916.
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