Only with trust can friendship really blossom.
In a recentepisode of DZMM's teleradyo program, Magpayo Nga Kayo (9:30 - 10:30 am, Saturdays), which I co-host with famed broadcaster May Valle Ceniza, comments from our ardent followers confirmed what the latest SWS survey said: Most Filipinos trust the United States so much more than they do China.
In fact, all of the program's listeners and viewers who called, sent text messages, or posted comments on Facebook expressed their distrust of China. I found their reactions very revealing, especially because not a single one of them had a kind word for China despite the persistent stance of administration officials to pursue and nurture lasting friendship with our giant neighbor.
It seems all the exchange of friendly gestures and reassuring rhetoric between the governments of the Philippines and China have done little to significantly improve the low level of trust which typical Filipinos have for the Chinese government.
The latest Social Weather Stations survey taken in Decembe, 2017, showed Filipinos have much trust for the United States, Canada, and Japan. Although SWS said the net trust rating for China "rose by one grade from poor to neutral for China, at +7 (38% much trust, 31% little trust) in December, 2017," it was a far cry from the rating for US which "stayed very good at +68 (75% much trust, 7% little trust) in December, 2017." In the same period, Canada "rose by one grade from good to very good at +55 (65% much trust, 10% little trust), while Japan also rose from good to very good, "at a record high +54 (65% much trust, 11% little trust)."
Much of the reasons for Filipinos' distrust of China focused mainly on its incursions into the West Philippine Sea and also on perceived attempts, that came to light in recent months, of China to creep into Benham Rise and gather sensitive security information in it, raising fears it would eventually threaten the Philippines' sovereign rights over the area.
Gauging by the feedback from the DZMM audience, it has become apparent that the bullying actuations over the years of China have taken their toll on most Filipinos' perception of it. It is now widely believed that the incursions into Philippine territorial waters have firmed up the impression that China is a "greedy foreign power" which Filipinos have to be wary of because of the perception that its presently friendly stance toward the Philippines is merely that of "a fox disguised in sheep's clothing."
Other Southeast Asian countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia which are at odds with China's expansionism are also wary. Though Chinese economic assistance to Asean countries is welcome, analysts are one in their view that "territorial disputes with Beijing in the South China Sea have cast our giant neighbor as an arrogant bully."
And when President Duterte, shortly after he assumed power in 2016, floated the idea of a probable alliance with China while talking of terminating military ties with the US, security analysts viewed such idea as "unthinkable" for most Filipinos mainly due to cultural, social, and ideological reasons.
Despite historical abuses and excesses, such as the Balangiga massacre committed by US forces in the past, Filipinos have learned to trust Americans - the primary reason why there are about 3.5 million Filipino-Americans in the US pursuing or living the American Dream.
Indeed, while almost every Filipino has a relative or close friend residing in the US, the same cannot be said of China even with its close proximity. Given a choice, the typical Filipino would prefer to visit or stay in the US than in China.
It really boils down to trust. Despite all the positive developments that have transpired between the Philippines and China since President Duterte took over the reins of government, Filipinos are still wary. And it certainly doesn't help to hear the President joking that our country ought to become a "province" of China. Many regard it as a cruel joke and an insult to the heroic struggles of our forefathers against foreign invaders.
It also doesn't help learning of a report, published in China's state-owned Global Times, that the head of Xiamen University's Southeast Asian Studies Center, Zhuang Guotu, has said that "loans are usually accompanied by repayment agreements, which use certain natural resources as collateral." The report has ignited fears that natural resources in the Philippines could be mortgaged to fund infrastructure projects.
But it's good that the Chinese Foreign Ministry dispelled the report when it said: "China has never asked and will never ask relevant countries to use natural resources as collateral in loan agreements. In this vein, our assistance and support to the Philippines are provided with no strings attached."
With the clarification, China ought to be forever bound by its statement, assuming the Chinese government can now be trusted. But whatever its worth, the statement can go a long way in developing trust. And we need more similar statements to address the many worries of Filipinos concerning China. And, needless to say, China must show that it stands by its commitments. Only then can trust be strengthened; only with trust can friendship blossom.
Atty. Joey D. Lina Former Senator