(L-R) Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr., Senator James Risch, and Philippine Ambassador Jose Manuel Romualdez during their meeting on 30 September 2021 (Photo from Washignton DC)
As a follow up to Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Locsin’s meeting with US State Secretary Antony Blinken and the White House two weeks ago, a series of meetings were organized by the Philippine embassy with several legislators to discuss a wide range of issues that impact the relationship between the Philippines and the United States. Those meetings were frank and substantial, and I must admit Secretary Ted was extremely articulate in addressing major issues and concerns in our relationship.
The meeting with Illinois Senator Richard Durbin, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was very frank and cordial.
Secretary Locsin stressed that the Philippines remains a vibrant democracy with press freedom very much alive. Regarding human rights, he reiterated the statement made by President Duterte during the 76th UN General Assembly meeting that “the Philippines seeks stronger partnerships to protect the rights of Filipinos” and that those found to have acted beyond bounds concerning the government’s campaign against illegal drugs “shall be made accountable before our laws.”
Secretary Locsin said the Philippines and the UN have formally launched the UN Joint Program on Human Rights to strengthen national institutions and support local processes to promote and protect human rights through technical cooperation with the UN and other partners.
Senator Menendez expressed his deep appreciation for the Visiting Forces Agreement being fully restored. He also expressed appreciation for Filipino-Americans, especially the nurses in New Jersey. Both senators noted that the Philippines is a key ally of the US and affirmed the centrality of US-Phl relations in maintaining stability in the Indo-Pacific region.
Our meeting with Senator Jim Risch of Idaho was also very substantial, centering on defense and security. Senator Risch, who serves as a ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, even tweeted that he enjoyed meeting with Secretary Locsin “to discuss the US-Philippine alliance which is crucial to the security of both our countries and the Indo-Pacific.”
It can be recalled that Senator Risch hailed the decision to retract the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement, saying that “the alliance is stronger today because both nations have demonstrated a commitment to upholding the VFA. Strong defense ties through agreements such as the Mutual Defense Treaty, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement and the VFA are not only in the interests of both the Philippines and the United States, but are also crucial to the security of the Indo-Pacific region.”
We expressed our continued support for the partnership between the two nations, reiterating the shared commitment made by Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Secretary Lloyd Austin during their meeting earlier in September to build an even stronger foundation for future alliance cooperation.
“One of the things that we have discussed all the way through from Secretary Austin to Secretary Blinken and now the senators is the proposal for a multi-year plan to support continuing efforts to modernize and enhance the AFP’s defense capabilities.”
There is really no better time than now – as we celebrate the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the Philippines and the US and the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Mutual Defense Treaty – to breathe new life into the VFA and make the MDT more attuned to the times to make the relationship more relevant and responsive to ever-evolving challenges. Considering that the alliance has been around for seven decades, it will need a “refresh,” so to speak, to evolve and keep up with the changing times.
One of the things that we have discussed all the way through from Secretary Austin to Secretary Blinken and now the senators is the proposal for a multi-year plan to support continuing efforts to modernize and enhance the AFP’s defense capabilities. Obviously, the Philippines has to become much stronger – not only militarily but also economically– to be a reliable ally that can also bring a significant contribution to the partnership. There is, after all, the word “mutual” in the MDT.
The meeting with Congressman Steve Chabot of Ohio – who serves as the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, Central Asia, and Nonproliferation – was also productive, with defense issues tackled extensively. We also met with Congressman Joe Courtney of Connecticut, chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces. They expressed the hope that he could visit the Philippines soon.
“We are all very pleased to report that our friends at the White House have confirmed an additional 5.3 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine to arrive in the Philippines within the next couple of weeks.”
Congressman Chabot, co-chairman of the US-Philippines Friendship Caucus (a bipartisan network of US legislators that support the US-Philippines alliance and promote the interests and welfare of Filipino-Americans), is very concerned about the pandemic situation in the Philippines. He is happy that the US provides substantial help, particularly the millions of vaccines donated through the COVAX Facility.
We are all very pleased to report that our friends at the White House have confirmed an additional 5.3 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine to arrive in the Philippines within the next couple of weeks. The Philippines has received 16 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX Facility, with over nine million directly donated by the US.
Secretary Locsin met earlier with USAID administrator Ambassador Samantha Power, who said that the Philippines would receive an additional $11.3 million in COVID-19 response financing, which will bring the total US financial assistance to more than $39 million.
Asian countries, particularly those in the ASEAN bloc, are now outpacing many countries worldwide in the race to vaccinate their citizens, doing their part in getting the world population closer to herd immunity. Admittedly, the generosity of the United States in contributing the largest number of vaccines to the world is much appreciated.