Keeping US-Philippine relations strong
(The Philippine Star) - February 25, 2018 - 12:00am

Bilateral relations between nations will always experience challenges and encounter occasional bumps along the way. The Philippines and the United States are no exception. As we expected, a lot of issues are being blown up by many people particularly those opposed to the Duterte administration. One such issue, or a real non-issue, was this so-called yearly intelligence report. For some reason, the report came out in a rather peculiar way – first through social media, then in the news. Be that as it may, it was naturally important for us to clarify the matter with US Ambassador Sung Kim. As expected, the issue was quickly resolved. A continuing dialogue and close relationship with friends always works.

One group that helps in keeping such relationships working well is the US-Philippines Society (USPS). Established in 2012, it has been working to sustain ties between the two nations, elevating the profile of the Philippines and highlighting its achievements through trade and investment forums. It has also been supporting business networking, strengthening the strategic relationship, and enhancing people-to-people ties. 

I was happy to host a welcome cocktail buffet dinner for the board members led by co-chairmen, Ambassador John Negroponte and PLDT chief Manny Pangilinan, Ambassador and USPS society president John Maisto and executive director Hank Hendrickson (see photos in This Week on PeopleAsia at the Allure section of the Philippine STAR today) as the executive board of the USPS held their annual meeting in Manila and conducted a successful two-day trade and investment forum at the Manila Peninsula hotel. The cocktail buffet dinner was attended by friends of the United States such as ICTSI’s Ricky Razon and the SM Group’s Tessie Sy-Coson who was honored with the Carlos P. Romulo Award for her valuable support to the USPS.

The group’s contribution in strengthening bilateral ties and bringing attention to the Philippines as a viable investment destination for American investors has not gone unnoticed – which is why it was no surprise that President Duterte was pleased when the group paid a courtesy call on the president in Malacañang. As Ambassador John Negroponte noted, an underlying message to the president is that the relationship between the US and the Philippines is “alive and well.”

During his State of the Union speech, President Trump said he wants to see dying industries “come roaring back to life,” and replace crumbling infrastructure with new roads, bridges, tunnels, airports and railways gleaming all across the United States. This does not mean the US is turning away from the rest of the world – it simply means that Trump wants the US to have the means to be more globally competitive, as the nation is very much “open for business.”

A business forum organized by the society explored new opportunities for increased business collaborations and examined the industries that American and Filipino businessmen can partner in, such as energy, agriculture, telecommunications and construction. Likewise, partnerships in the business process outsourcing (BPO) sector will continue to be sustained. The BPO industry is a big contributor to the economy of the Philippines with 2017 revenues estimated at $23 billion, and a major driver of growth for this sector is the US which is one of the largest investors in the industry.

However, the USPS noted that the Philippines must level up in terms of technology and specialized knowledge since the trend now is toward big data analytics and artificial intelligence. One of the business process management companies that has been quick to leverage artificial intelligence is [24]  which is the first organization that will integrate machine learning and heuristic technology into customer service. The company – which recently opened its flagship office at Cyber Sigma in Bonifacio Global City – has been expanding very quickly and is looking at hiring an additional 1,500 people in the facility.

The fact is, the Philippines has been dubbed as “a rising star” in terms of foreign direct investments by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. It was also described as “Asia’s rare bright spot” by the Asian Development Bank, with projections that increased investments will accelerate our GDP growth to 6.8 percent, citing the government’s ambitious “build, build, build” program and the comprehensive tax reforms as excellent initiatives in continuing the country’s strong economic performance.

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We received a letter from Philippine Airlines president and CEO Jimmy Bautista about the certified 4-Star rating PAL received from Skytrax following comprehensive audits on the airline’s inflight and ground services on international and domestic flights. The 4-Star rating from the London-based, leading global authority on airline quality standards is definite proof that our country’s flag carrier is globally competitive, and this latest milestone should bring great pride to Filipinos.

PAL is now also part of the US Transportation Security Administration Pre-check program, which is an expedited security screening program that provides quick, convenient and hassle-free travel for passengers flying out of airports from and within the United States.  

PAL serves Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City, Honolulu and Guam, and according to Jimmy, PAL now operates more routes from the Philippines to more destinations in the United States than any other airline. Asia’s first and oldest commercial airline is looking at further expansion as it is poised to receive more brand-new aircraft in the coming months. PAL is investing $2 billion to acquire 15 more jets from Airbus and Bombardier, with the first of the Airbus A-350s to be deployed in the Manila-New York non-stop service by October.

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