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US VP Harris brings new programs, loans for Philippines

Kaycee Valmonte - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 12:13 p.m.) — United States Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to the Philippines also means a flurry of new programs and partnerships across different sectors as well as funding for projects in agriculture, women empowerment, and healthcare.

Harris, with husband and second gentleman Douglas Emhoff, arrived in Manila on Sunday evening, as Air Force Two landed at around 6:50 p.m.

“Overall, I would say this visit is about strengthening our bilateral relationship with the Philippines in recognition of our long history as friends, allies, partners,” a senior administration official told reporters in a background briefing on Sunday evening.

“This visit builds on a number of significant high-level engagement with our Philippine allies that we’ve already had in this administration.” 

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Packed trip

On Monday, Harris will meet with President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and Vice President Sara Duterte, and join a townhall meeting on women empowerment. 

She will fly to Puerto Princesa in Palawan on Tuesday, where she is expected to deliver a speech underscoring the importance of the international law and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea as well as meet with local communities affected by climate change. 

Ranging from energy to military and other funding opportunities, the US will be launching new programs and opportunities for partnerships with the Philippines during Harris' visit. 

One of these is a new program with World Hope that will provide support in combatting the online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC) and reach out to OSEC survivors in the Philippines. 

RELATED: Philippines to go after those contributing to online sexual exploitation of children

Energy security initiatives

The following meanwhile are the energy security initiatives expected to be discussed during Harris' visit:

  • A “123 Agreement” Negotiations for Civil Nuclear Cooperation will be launched, where the two countries will work together to support and cooperate on efforts on zero-emission energy and nonproliferation priorities. This will become the legal basis for US exports of nuclear equipment and material to the Philippines.
  • The US said it will support the development of a nickel and cobalt processing facility in the Philippines, which can expand production by 20,000 metric tons yearly. Washington said these minerals will be essential to the country as it transitions into using clean energy.
  • The US will work with Energy Development Corp. to construct a geothermal power project in Mindanao. 
  • To help and encourage US-based firms and financers to invest in the Philippines and the Indo-Pacific region’s energy and infrastructure requirements, the US will open a US Trade and Development Agency in its Manila embassy.  
  • The launch of the Indo-Pacific Smart and Secure Ports Development will give the Philippines an opportunity to modernize and mitigate cybersecurity risks in its seaports.

Dialogue with Philippine counterparts

The US also said it seeks to create energy and food security dialogues with the Philippines. The US Department of Energy, the US Department of State and the Philippine Department of Energy will form the energy dialogue, which will focus on short and long-term energy planning, offshore wind development and grid stability and power transmission. 

The food security dialogue will be held with the US Department of Agriculture, where both the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the US Department of State will participate, along with its Philippine counterparts. 

More EDCA sites? 

Washington also announced its plans to establish new locations where it can implement the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), which allows Philippine and American service members to perform security cooperation exercises, respond to humanitarian assistance needs, and partake in joint military activities, among others. 

However, the senior administration official said the US is still finalizing talks with the Philippine Department of Defense on this matter.

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The US has so far spent over $82 million for the implementation of EDCA, with 21 projects underway. Contracts for the projects are said to have been awarded to Philippine firms. 

Support for the digital economy

Washington also plans to help the country expand ties with the Philippines in navigating new technology and the digital sphere. This includes expanding access to reliable and secure 5G connection in partnership with NOW Telecom.

USAID is also supporting the other programs. The first Low Eart Orbit Satellite Broadband Service in Southeast Asia is planned for launching in the Philippines, in collaboration with SpaceX Starlink.

Meanwhile, a five-year project called “Strengthening Private Enterprises for the Digital Economy” will also help small business not be left out and participate in the country’s e-commerce ecosystem. A separate project, with $5.3-million in private sector funding from seven Philippine companies, will also help train workers navigate the high-tech manufacturing sector.

New funding support: How much and what for?

Aside from new projects, the US is also providing the Philippines with more loans.

  • $20 million loan for Agri Exim Global Philippines, Inc. 

Through the US International Development Finance Corp. (DFC), Washington will be loaning the local coconut processor $20 million to help grow its facilities in the Philippines. Agri Exim Global helps thousands of local farmers get their foot in the global supply chain to sell coconut products. 

The Department of Agriculture previously noted the Philippines is the second-largest coconut producing country, with production in the second quarter this year increasing 2% to 3.36 million metric tons from 3.29 million MT year on year. Former agriculture secretary called the local coconut industry a “sleeping giant,” with a potential to boost the country’s economic growth.

  • $15.5-million investment for women entrepreneurs

The DFC is also allocating a $15.5 million loan through a framework agreement with Citibank. This will support ASA Philippines Foundation, a microfinancing institution for women entrepreneurs.

  • $8 million for Philippine healthcare system

The US seeks to invest $8 million into its partnership with the Philippine healthcare system, “subject to the availability of funds.” Washington wants the funds to be utilized to detect and avoid preventable outbreaks and health threats as well as be used for a response system, in case of one.

Philippines welcomes US support

Meanwhile, the Philippines welcomed the initiatives as these represent "concrete deliverables" of the bilateral meeting between Marcos and US President Joe Biden at the sidelines of the 77th UN General Assembly in September. 

"The Philippines and United States agree on the importance of strengthening the economic security of the Philippines so that we might have the capacity to meet both our individual and collective challenges," the Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement sent to reporters. 

Manila also hopes the "extensive bilateral engagements" between the two nations continue to help the Philippines achieve its economic development objectives.  

KAMALA HARRIS

UNITED STATES

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