Strong people-to-people ties: 75 years of Phl-US diplomatic relations

by Ambassador B. Romualdez

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson shakes hands with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte at the Malacañang Palace in Manila on August 7, 2017 | Photo by U.S. State Department via Wikimedia Commons

June and July will be the busiest months here in Washington, DC, as we prepare for the activities we have lined up to commemorate the 123rd anniversary of the Proclamation of Philippine Independence and celebrate the 75th anniversary of the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between the Philippines and the United States.

Our consulates all over the US will have their own Independence Day celebrations, but the embassy has also prepared several special events. One of them will take place on June 15 at 8 p.m. (June 16 at 8 a.m. in the Philippines), with a virtual concert we have organized together with The Filipino Channel featuring performances by Martin Nievera and several Filipino talents, which will be live-streamed on Facebook (HYPERLINK https://www.facebook.com/PHinUSA).

On June 21st, the Ambassador’s official residence at Sheridan Circle in Washington, DC will be declared as a National Historic Landmark of the Philippines – a great milestone because the residence serves as another symbol of the long history in the relationship between the US and the Philippines. The residence was purchased in 1946 by Joaquin Elizalde, a wealthy Filipino businessman who was a Resident Commissioner in the US House of Representatives and eventually became appointed by President Manuel Roxas as the first Philippine Ambassador to the United States.

“On June 21st, the Ambassador’s official residence at Sheridan Circle in Washington, DC will be declared as a National Historic Landmark of the Philippines – a great milestone because the residence serves as another symbol of the long history in the relationship between the US and the Philippines.”

Built in 1904, the embassy residence is just a short distance from what were once the homes of four US presidents: William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, and Herbert Hoover – one reason why the residence has such historical significance. This is the second property owned by the Philippines that will distinguish being a National Historic Landmark.

In 2018, the Old Chancery building located at Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, DC, was declared by the National Historical Commission as a National Historic Landmark. Such an act recognized and preserved the history, nationalism, and dignity that the building embodies for Filipinos since the Old Chancery was where Philippine Resident Commissioners Joaquin Elizalde and Carlos P. Romulo held important meetings to the transition of the Philippines into an independent republic.

On July 4, 1946, the Philippines became “a separate and self-governing nation,” as Paul V. McNutt – the first US Ambassador to the Philippines – described it. As Ambassador McNutt lowered the American flag, President Manuel Roxas raised the Philippine flag amid the loud ringing of church bells that echoed the jubilant shouts of hundreds of thousands of Filipinos who were in Luneta to witness that historic event.

“Our ties with the US are among the oldest among many bilateral relations, largely attributable to the deep linkages between Filipinos and Americans due to our shared history and experiences that make this friendship extraordinary.”

Our ties with the US are among the oldest among many bilateral relations, largely attributable to the deep linkages between Filipinos and Americans due to our shared history and experiences that make this friendship extraordinary. This was highlighted during the joint virtual press briefing we had the other day with US Embassy Chargè d’Affaires John Law.

Despite the few ups and downs over the years, our relationship with the United States has always been stable because of strong people-to-people ties. Over 350,000 Americans reside in the Philippines, and about four million Filipino-Americans living in the US.

In fact, Filipino-Americans are very much appreciated and well-respected in the communities where they live and work. Many have also become very successful, distinguishing themselves in their fields of expertise. One of them is Dr. Connie Mariano, a retired rear admiral of the US Navy who was also the first female director of the White House Medical Unit, having served three US presidents: George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush.

We also have Sean Reyes, the Attorney General in Utah, whom I had the pleasure to meet personally. Sean, a grandnephew of the late president Ramon Magsaysay, has been Attorney General since 2013 and is well respected in Utah and here in Washington, DC.

Then there is chef Cristeta “Chris” Comerford, who gained popularity for being the first woman and the first Asian descent to serve as White House executive chef. Chef Chris is a close friend of Chef Jessie Sincioco, one of our well-known chefs in Manila and my favorite.

“In fact, Filipino-Americans are very much appreciated and well-respected in the communities where they live and work. Many have also become very successful, distinguishing themselves in their fields of expertise.”

Filipino cuisine is also becoming extremely popular in the US, with interest escalating since we held the first-ever Filipino food festival in DC in 2019. Filipino-American chefs have been getting accolades from food critics, among them Tom Cunanan, formerly of Bad Saint, the restaurant that had senators and even presidents going there to eat pre-pandemic.

Filipino Restaurant Week – an annual event – is coming up, and this year, there is a good chance that we will be able to hold the event on-site instead of virtually.

In my three years as Philippine Ambassador to the US, there have been so many milestones in the relationship between the two nations. Just recently, one of our friends in Congress – Representative Joe Courtney of Connecticut, who is also the chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces – wrote to Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Harker to strongly recommend naming a US Navy warship after Telesforo Trinidad – a Filipino-American sailor who received the Medal of Honor in 1915 because of the courage and heroism he displayed when one of the boilers of USS San Diego exploded. The Aklan-born Telesforo did not think twice about saving other crew members, even at the risk of his own life.

This initiative which has been gathering momentum following the support of several US representatives, could also become another testament to the stability of the relationship between the United States and the Philippines, which we hope will continue for the next 75 years.
Email: babeseyeview@gmail.com

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