Members of Philippine Army inspect one of eight Chinese fishing boats spotted in Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea.
Members of the Philippine Army inspect one of eight Chinese fishing boats spotted in the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. Reuters

Though Beijing insists that its military presence in disputed areas of the South China Sea are for international humanitarian and stability reasons, a new poll shows that a majority of Filipinos fear armed conflict with China when it comes to the South China Sea. A survey found that eight in 10 Filipinos are worried about escalating tension between Beijing and Manila when it comes to conflicting claims over the Scarborough Shoal.

A survey by the Social Weather Stations found that 49 percent of the 1,200 people surveyed said they “worried a great deal,” while another 35 percent said they were “somewhat worried.” The survey, which was conducted in March, found that the responses were consistent with answers given in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

As tensions have grown over the years, fears over conflict are likely linked with the government's response to fraying geopolitical relations with Beijing. After Manila filed an arbitration case with the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea against China, which Beijing chose to ignore, the same poll found that 49 percent of respondents strongly agreed with the steps taken by the government. This was a significant decline from prior years, which recorded 62 percent and 65 percent of respondents agreeing in 2014 and 2013, respectively.

At the same time, the Philippine Star reported that the Philippines global peace ranking has also dropped amid a combination of conflicts including the South China Sea and the country’s battle with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels. Within the Asia Pacific region, the Philippines took second to last place on the Global Peace Index rankings of 2015, only beating out the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Within the ASEAN members, the Philippines ranked last. The report said that while there is a good chance of further military conflict in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, large-scale military confrontation is not likely.

Both China and Vietnam, other main players in the South China Sea dispute, also had lowered scores in the 2015 index because of their roles in a potential conflict area.