US envoy’s fast-food diplomacy

by Maricar CP Hampton

Barely two years into the job and United States Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas Jr. is smitten with everything Filipino. He’s tried ‘balut’ and ‘lambanog’ and swears he likes them.

“I couldn’t be more than a few weeks without Filipino food,” he told a Filipino American crowd gathered at the Asia Society in Washington D.C. ‘Adobo,’ he confessed, is his favorite Philippine dish.

Two weeks into his recent home leave, he took his mom, Haladonia Thomas, to try Philippine fast-food at Jollibee and Red Ribbon bake shop in Queens. At Jollibee, they ordered Chickenjoy and hamburger. For dessert, they headed to Red Ribbon for a slice of mango cake and ‘halo- halo.’

“My mom is now a fan of mango cake,” the New York-born Thomas told his audience.

Using food as his entry point, Thomas worked his way through Philippine-American relations, and characterized bilateral ties as being “strong as ever.”

He reiterated America’s commitment to provide support to the Philippines over the issue of the Spratly Islands conflict. “No one should doubt the United States’ commitment to the Philippines,” he said.

Manila and Beijing are in a standoff over a group of islands along the Palawan waters being claimed by both countries.

“Lately, we have seen growing concern in the Philippines about conflicting territorial claims in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea),” he said. “Like every other nation, we have a national interest in freedom of navigation and respect for international law.”

“The United States does not take sides on the competing territorial disputes, but we believe claimants should pursue their territorial claims in accordance with the UN convention on the law of the sea,” he said, echoing the Philippine position.

Thomas praised President Benigno Aquino Jr. for his “desire to deliver good and clean governance” as in the time he called on officials to eliminate the use of car sirens – a practice Aquino equated with abuse of power.

“I’m impressed with President Aquino’s desire to level the playing field,” he said. “The fact that something so small as a siren went out… (This) has been a key to a wonderful beginning.”

He also commended Aquino for waging war against heinous crimes and human trafficking, which is “nothing short of modern-day slavery.”

“I am delighted to tell you, there has been progress. We support the strong partnership between the civil society and government agencies that have worked to prevent victimization, rescue those who have been abused, apprehend perpetrators and convict the guilty. Much remains to be done, but the US government has recognized Philippine progress,” said Thomas.

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