China or the US?
EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales (The Philippine Star) - August 1, 2019 - 12:00am

Is the Philippines torn between two lovers? Or has Manila totally forgotten Washington, its old friend or was it an old flame?

With President Duterte’s pivot to China, some are wondering what has happened to the country’s relationship with the US?

Wonder no more. In a recent trip back to Manila,  the country’s envoy to Washington, Ambassador Jose “Babe” Romualdez gave assurances that Philippines-US relations are stronger than ever now.

“I can safely tell you that our relationship with the United States is at its best. Why? Because clearly, there is a lot more mutual respect between the two nations, there is mutual dependence, and there is recognition of what we need from each other, which is more clearly defined,” Romualdez said in a forum in Makati last week organized by the American Chamber of Commerce.

Security

Romualdez trumpeted the improved relations, saying that the partnership is indeed stronger now.

“I am not in Washington to beg for aid, but to seek ways of strengthening our economy and buying what we need from the United States, especially with regard to modernizing our Armed Forces so we can defend ourselves and be equal partners in fighting for freedom and democracy,” he said.

A joint statement released after a recent meeting between Philippine and American diplomatic officials also said that both sides recognized the importance of a strong Philippine-US  alliance in enhancing security in the region.

This means the Philippines can be assured that the US will support the country in upholding freedom of navigation and lawful activities in the South China Sea.

The question now is whether Manila shares the same view, or if it would simply fall into China’s orbit. This will have to wait and see.

Nevertheless, Romualdez’s talk at the AmCham forum was an assurance for Washington that Manila has not forgotten its old friend.

Economic front

And the feeling is mutual. The US, a key ally, continues to invest in the country, Romualdez said.

The US, he said, remains a major source of investments.

“As all of you here know, one of the top five sources of foreign direct investments over the past decade is the US, along with Japan, Hong Kong, ASEAN, and the European Union,” he said.

At the same time, he is right in encouraging American businessmen to invest more in the country as he shared the observation of the economic team that  US businessmen have not been quick to act as far as increasing investments to the Philippines goes.

“Something that all of you who are here today can help us with,” Romualdez told the crowd of American businessmen.

What’s the energy plan?

President Duterte said in his fourth State of the Nation Address that the Philippines should reduce its dependence on traditional sources of energy such as coal and instead develop renewable sources.

More and more groups are joining the call to shift to other sources of energy. Even church groups have joined the fray.

The Living Laudato Si group for instance, has been calling on the country’s banks to stop financing roughly 20 coal-fired power plants in the country.

On its website, Living Laudato Si said that despite the passage of the Renewable Energy Act of 2008, the share of renewables in the country’s installed generating capacity has actually declined from 35 percent in 1997 to 32 percent in 2017.

“By financing the development of ‘dirty energy’ facilities, these financial institutions are not only contributing to worsening climate change, but also adversely affecting millions of people through its numerous impacts. In addition, they also indirectly influence the deterioration of the health and well-being of nearby communities,” the movement said.

Banks, it said, must be consistent with their sustainability advocacy and stop financing such coal projects. Banks in the region including Singapore’s DBS Group and UBO banks have joined the trend, saying they would cease financing coal projects.

However, in the Philippines these calls are useless unless the Philippines comes out with a written policy that would guide the future energy mix in the country – whether it’s traditional or renewable energy sources.

This way, investors would be guided as to where to put their money for the long haul.

Over lunch recently, a veteran oil energy guy said it’s really time for the government to come out with a more comprehensive and definite policy for the energy sector and how the Philippines can achieve that.

“What’s the plan for the energy sector? We have no written policy,” said my source.

There is a shift toward renewable, but there is no comprehensive framework and timetable.

He noted that the Malampaya is already thinning out and people are scrambling to bring in LNG or liquefied natural gas without really understanding what it is.

At present, coal accounts for 39.4 percent of the country’s dependable capacity mix, followed by renewable energy at 31 percent, natural gas at 15.5 percent and oil-based at 14.1 percent.

Changing the mix requires careful planning, of course, and a balancing of many factors including costs and stability of supply. But whatever it takes, it is indeed time we finally have a carefully studied energy mix.

Iris Gonzales’ email address is eyesgonzales@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at eyesgonzales.com

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