Confronting other countries | Inquirer Opinion

Confronting other countries

IN RELATION to China’s recent attempt to bully the country into abandoning its claims in the Western Philippine Sea, how are Filipinos probably reacting? How many would like to confront China; how many prefer to appease it? I don’t know of any specific opinion poll on this matter.

In the meantime, let us look at survey findings from an agree/disagree item in the National Identity module of the International Social Survey Program (ISSP): “The [name of country] should follow its own interests, even if this leads to conflict with other nations.”


SWS translated this item as: “Dapat sundin ng Pilipinas ang sarili niyang interes kahit na magresulta ito sa alitan sa ibang bansa.” Note that it does not specify what conflict or foreign nation. It was used in two Philippine surveys, on Nov. 22-Dec. 29, 1995 and on March 10-23, 2003, both with national samples of 1,200 adults (3 percent error margin).

The SWS surveys found Filipinos widely divided, with agree-disagree percentages of 33-38 in 1995, and 34-39 in 2003—not adding up to 100 on account of many undecided and a few who couldn’t answer.


In both years, the agree-disagree difference is a very small -5, which to me is neutral, in line with SWS practice to regard single-digit net scores as indistinguishable from zero. In general, therefore, Filipinos are neither pro-confrontation nor pro-appeasement, but are in the middle.

Does this make us Filipinos unique? The advantage of an ISSP survey is that it provides a scientific means to compare countries to each other.

Of the 35 national groups surveyed by ISSP in 2003, the agree-disagree differences were positive and double-digit in 27 cases, indicating a wide global prevalence of popular insistence on pursuing the national interest, even with risk of conflict.

These cases were: Bulgarians +73, Chileans +67, Israeli Jews +61, Uruguayans +58, Russians +46, Austrians +43, Portuguese +41, South Koreans +38, French +37, New Zealanders +37, Danes +32, Finns +31, Hungarians +30, Swiss +30, Canadians +29, Irish +29, South Africans +29, Poles +27, Spaniards +27, British +21, Czechs +20, Israeli Arabs +20, Americans +19, Australians +16, Venezuelans +15, Slovaks +14, and West Germans +10.

(It is interesting to see that Americans, though conscious of their military and economic power, are only mildly insistent on their national interest, given risk of conflict. The division of Germans and Israelis into two strata, and the strict limitation of the British to Great Britain are due to the practices of the local ISSP survey institute. I use names of nationalities, rather than countries, to make it clear that the surveys describe attitudes of peoples, and not official positions of their governments.)

The agree-disagree differences were in single-digits, or neutral, in five cases: East Germans +8, Swedes +8, Latvians +7, Taiwanese +3, and Filipinos -5. Therefore we Filipinos are neither average nor too unique.

Finally there were three cases with agree-disagree differences in negative double digits, namely: Norwegians -13, Slovenians -21, and Japanese -22. Within these three exceptional nationalities, it seems that most are willing to compromise the national interest so as to avoid conflict with other countries.


Political influence in the world. The merely neutral attitude of Filipinos towards pursuing the national interest, when threatened by conflict with other countries, is related to some extent to our low sense of political influence in the world.

When the 2003 ISSP National Identity survey asked about pride in certain aspects of the Philippines, it found majorities saying they were somewhat or very proud of: (1) its achievements in sports, 85 percent; (2) its history, 82 percent; (3) its achievements in arts and literature, 77 percent; (4) its scientific and technological achievements, 66 percent; (5) its armed forces, 58 percent; (6) the way democracy works, 54 percent; and (7) fair and equal treatment of all groups in society, 51 percent.

On the other hand, it found minorities somewhat or very proud of: (8) its economic achievements, 47; (9) its social security system, 45; and, at the bottom, (10) its political influence in the world, 36.

Among the few feeling somewhat/very proud of our political influence in the world, the net-agree score on pursuing the national interest even if it leads to conflict is +4. On the other hand, among the many feeling not very/not at all proud of our political influence, the net-agree score is -11, indicating willingness to compromise so as to avoid conflict.

Looking across the ISSP groups, in 2003 there were 17 with majority percentages feeling somewhat/very proud of their political influence in the world: Americans 78, Canadians 73, French 70, New Zealanders 67, South Africans 63, Irish 62, Australians 60, Chileans 59, British 59, Danes 58, Spaniards 58, Norwegians 56, West Germans 55, Venezuelans 55, Swiss 55, East Germans 54, and Austrians 53.

On the other hand there were 18 groups with minorities feeling somewhat/very proud of their political influence in the world: Israeli Arabs 46, Finns 45, Swedes 45, Poles 41, Portuguese 38, Russians 38, Uruguayans 37, Israeli Jews 37, Filipinos 36, Japanese 35, Slovenians 35, Hungarians 33, Czechs 28, Latvians 27, Taiwanese 23, Slovaks 21, Bulgarians 18, and South Koreans 17. Although political influence is our humblest suit, we are not the humblest in it.

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