| Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
For obvious reasons, nowadays we seldom get visitors in Washington, more so Cabinet secretaries. But this week has been rather hectic with two important Cabinet secretaries. Our embassy staff and I paved the way for the visit of Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddyboy Locsin and Defense Secretary Del Lorenzana specifically to commemorate two important milestones in our relationship with the United States – the 75th year of our diplomatic relations and 70 years of our Mutual Defense Treaty.
These milestones allowed us to organize significant engagements for the two Cabinet secretaries in touching base with their counterparts and other key officials of the US government. These meetings continue our work in reaching out to the Biden Administration right after the Nov. 3 US elections.
I joined Secretary Locsin for his first in-person meeting with State Secretary Antony Blinken at the State Department, where both reaffirmed the long-standing partnership between the US and the Philippines and also committed to ramp-up the bilateral engagement to ensure that the alliance, which has existed for seven decades, remains strong and resilient. Secretary Locsin himself underscored the importance of the Mutual Defense Treaty, and the restoration of the Visiting Forces Agreement puts the alliance back on track and restores the security balance in the Asia Pacific region.
We also arranged a meeting between Secretary Locsin and Ambassador Ted Osius, a former US Ambassador to Vietnam who replaced Alex Feldman as president and CEO of the US-ASEAN Business Council (USABC), an advocacy group composed of some of the biggest American multinational companies whose aim is to foster economic growth and trade ties between ASEAN member-nations. Secretary Locsin and Ambassador Osius discussed ways to expand further the economic partnership between the Philippines and USABC, which has been in existence for three decades.
“US companies can find a reliable trade and investment partner and a hub for their businesses in the Philippines.”
US companies can find a reliable trade and investment partner and a hub for their businesses in the Philippines. We encouraged them to pivot their business activities to the Philippines in the light of their desire to diversify their operations to countries other than China.
At our White House meeting with National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, Secretary Locsin and Secretary Lorenzana both had a productive discussion on a wide range of issues. Among the topics discussed included the ongoing counterterrorism efforts and the response to COVID-19, with the US providing an additional $11.3-million assistance through the USAID. This will bring the US government assistance for COVID-19 response to $39 million since the pandemic started in March last year. Vaccines were also on top of the priority list, and we will continue to secure more US-made vaccines, especially the boosters, and make them available in the Philippines.
Secretary Del – who spent 14 years in Washington from 2002 to 2016 as defense attaché and then as Special Presidential Representative for Veterans Affairs – touched base with the Filipino community and updated them about the developments here in the Philippines. He also met with some Philippine Military Academy alumni and Filipino World War II veterans whom the secretary got to know very well during his stint in DC.
I accompanied Secretary Del to an informal reception with Secretary of the Navy Carlos del Toro, whose career in the Navy spanned 22 years. He served as commanding officer of the USS Bulkeley, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer named after Vice Admiral John Bulkeley, a medal of honor recipient.
“This will bring the US government assistance for COVID-19 response to $39 million since the pandemic started in March last year. Vaccines were also on top of the priority list, and we will continue to secure more US-made vaccines, especially the boosters, and make them available in the Philippines.”
A meeting between Secretary Lorenzana and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon was extremely productive as a follow-up to the successful visit of Secretary Austin in Manila last July 30. The timing was opportune as the US and the Philippines recently completed bilateral Coast Guard drills in Subic. Participants launched the Scan Eagle Small Unmanned Aircraft System of USS Cutter Munro to aid in search-and-rescue response. They also completed the Bilateral Air Contingent Exchange at Basa Air Base in Pampanga last August. The annual exercise is meant to enhance interoperability and improve the troops’ ability to respond to a crisis jointly.
As Secretary Lorenzana himself had said, the most significant lesson from these exercises is that “we learn to work and cooperate with our friends, specifically military-to-military, because whenever there is a disaster or any crisis, it is the military who is always called upon to address them – typhoon, earthquake, whatever you call it.”
Not many people are aware that Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) is an important component of these exercises, especially at this time when climate change is worsening the impact of natural calamities, with extreme weather events causing increasingly destructive storms, along with wildfires, droughts, and other disasters.
“Both the US and the Philippines know the ramifications of climate change. An incoming summit would be very opportune with former State Secretary and now Climate Special Envoy John Kerry heading the US side and Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez, Philippine Climate Change Commission chair, heading our delegation.”
In fact, over 200 top medical journals worldwide have issued a joint statement warning about the rapidly warming climate, declaring that climate change is the “greatest threat” to global public health.
In the US, the economic impact wrought by Hurricane Ida is estimated at $95 billion by AccuWeather – making it the seventh costliest hurricane to hit the US since 2000. Both the US and the Philippines know the ramifications of climate change. An incoming summit would be very opportune with former State Secretary and now Climate Special Envoy John Kerry heading the US side and Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez, Philippine Climate Change Commission chair, heading our delegation.
I was extremely pleased with the visit of both my dear friends Secretary Ted and Secretary Del. Exhausting – but well worth it, giving all of us the reassurance that US-Philippines relations remain stable and strong.