US-ASEAN Summit in Washington

by Ambassador B. Romualdez

President Joe Biden and Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman participate in the U.S.-ASEAN Special Summit in Washington, D.C., on May 13, 2022. Photo by Freddie Everett/State Department via Wikimedia Commons

There is no doubt President Joe Biden and his White House team went all out, laying out the red carpet for the US-ASEAN Special Summit in Washington, DC. The atmosphere during the intimate dinner hosted last Thursday by President Biden for the ASEAN heads of state at the White House was extremely cordial. Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Locsin and I engaged freely with President Biden on an informal basis.

In sum, the discussions during the two-day summit were substantive. At the US-ASEAN Business Council lunch, senior US officials led by Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and US Trade Representative Katherine Tai were joined by US business leaders to exchange views on economic cooperation, the digital economy, sustainability, health care, and supply chain resilience on the first day.

The meetings continued the next day with Vice President Kamala Harris leading the discussions. Special Envoy on Climate John Kerry, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm also held dialogues on climate change, regional transition to clean energy, and sustainable infrastructure. President Biden came to the State Department later in the afternoon to talk with the ASEAN leaders about regional stability, maritime security, and cooperation as well as post-pandemic recovery.

Over the past four years of working in Washington with President Duterte guiding our foreign policy, I have come to the conclusion that our relationship with the United States has never been better, with the partnership getting stronger over the years despite the occasional bumps and regardless of who is in the Oval Office or who sits in Malacañang.

Overwhelming majority

During the entire campaign period, I have purposely stayed away from making any comments for obvious reasons. Now that the people have spoken – giving Ferdinand Marcos Jr. a stunning majority with over 31 million votes equivalent to about 60 percent of all votes counted and the biggest margin ever in any presidential elections in the past three decades – we are hopeful that this overwhelming mandate could be translated into something positive for the country and would unite the majority of Filipinos. We are told many of the other political colors have started to turn red shortly after the elections.

There is no doubt that the challenges that the incoming administration of presumptive president Bongbong Marcos faces will be tremendous, requiring remarkable attention and focus on critical issues such as post-pandemic recovery and health care, unemployment, and energy, infrastructure, agriculture, education as well as climate change. Of course, a priority will be an economic recovery, and from what I am hearing, there is a good economic team being put together by the presumptive president, although so far no one specific has been named. Needless to say, as expected after elections, so much jockeying for positions is taking place.

“There is no doubt that the challenges that the incoming administration of presumptive president Bongbong Marcos faces will be tremendous, requiring remarkable attention and focus on critical issues such as post-pandemic recovery and health care, unemployment, and energy, infrastructure, agriculture, education as well as climate change.”

“The economic managers are going to be critical for the next several years because of the pandemic and economic crisis, so that is something that we are carefully putting together,” Bongbong Marcos said.

The members of President Duterte’s economic team led by Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez have been doing an admirable job, navigating so many challenges that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the current situation in Ukraine. Despite that, we are seeing green shoots in the economy, with the country’s GDP growing at 8.3 percent in the first quarter of this year – faster than the 6.5 percent average forecast by analysts earlier.

According to Secretary Dominguez, talks are already starting regarding transition, and they have begun the briefing for the new economic team who I’m sure would be very responsive to the needs of these challenging and changing times.

Immediately after the congratulatory call from US President Biden to presumptive president BBM, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s message followed shortly, both leaders expressing optimism about strengthened relations between the Philippines and their respective countries. I’m told congratulatory messages from foreign leaders have started to pour in.

Understandably, there is still a lot of bitterness coming from some segments of society about the results but hopefully, they will have a different mindset once they see that the new administration is bent on doing good for the country. For the hardliners, however, nothing will convince them either way – an attitude that will eventually kill them because as my doctor said, “bitterness will only destroy you in the end.”

“Bitterness should have no place if we really want to help the Philippines and its people, no matter who the president may be. While I know there is a little more sensitivity to the current situation, at the end of the day – bayan pa rin natin ito!”

When I moved abroad to the US after 1986, I was happy to help then-vice president Doy Laurel – a family friend – coordinate his official visit to Washington, DC where I arranged meetings for him at the US Congress. In fact, that is when I first met then-senator, Joe Biden.

Through the years, I joined the business delegations of president Ramos; president Estrada where I also helped coordinate his official working visit to Washington, DC; and then I also helped president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in more ways than one. I refused to indulge in bitterness and self-pity. The Philippines is my country as much as it is theirs.

When Noynoy Aquino became president, I supported him and was part of his business delegation during his official visits to China, Japan, and New Zealand. We exchanged text messages, and I very much appreciated it when he would call me back. PNoy also attended many of our PeopleAsia magazine events. In my book, he was a regular guy.

Bitterness should have no place if we really want to help the Philippines and its people, no matter who the president may be. While I know there is a little more sensitivity to the current situation, at the end of the day – bayan pa rin natin ito!

Email: babeseyeview@gmail.com

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