Pompeo: ‘We have your back’
BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Babe Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - March 3, 2019 - 12:00am

During the meeting between President Duterte and US State Secretary Mike Pompeo at the Kalayaan Hall in Villamor Air Base last Thursday and in relation to our Mutual Defense Treaty, the US State Secretary gave these reassuring words to the president: “We have your back.”

Clearly, the US State Secretary wanted to confirm to its oldest ally that the United States will stand by its commitment. President Duterte in turn reaffirmed to him that we will honor our treaty. The exchange set the tone for the cordial meeting. 

Secretary Pompeo told President Duterte that President Trump was sending his best regards and then went on to give the president a short briefing on what transpired in Vietnam, the venue for the second summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. 

In the words of Secretary Pompeo, there was real progress, but it was clear that the issues will require more deliberation. As President Trump noted, it is better to do it right rather than just doing it fast.  President Duterte for his part thanked the United States for making every effort in working for peace and security in the Asian region. 

Several issues were discussed during the meeting, among them the longstanding alliance between the US and the Philippines. President Duterte was very frank and straightforward, saying that the Philippines will continue to respect and honor our mutual defense treaty.

What is also important is the president’s emphasis that he respects the will of the majority of Filipinos who see the United States as a trusted ally. This was evident in the result of the most recent survey conducted by Pulse Asia which showed that the US is still the most trusted nation among majority of Filipinos at 84 percent. The latest Social Weather Stations survey in 2018 also showed a similar result, with majority of Filipinos saying they have “very high trust” in the US, and that they believe the American commitment to honor its word.

Pompeo said the US appreciates the Filipinos’ trust, and gave his assurance that as far as the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty is concerned, the message was loud and clear – we are with you.

It was a very productive meeting which lasted for almost an hour. The way I saw it, Secretary Pompeo’s “campechano” personality (good natured, cheerful and open) made the meeting less formal. Unlike his predecessor, former Secretary Rex Tillerson who was a business executive, Pompeo was a soldier and a former politician who served as Representative of the 4th District of Kansas, which is probably why he and the president were comfortable with each other throughout the meeting, even exchanging light banter toward the end.

What also probably helps is the fact that Secretary Pompeo has a lot of Filipino-American friends, among them President Trump’s nominee for Undersecretary of State for Management Brian Bulatao, who was Pompeo’s classmate at West Point. Both men were also graduates of Harvard, and were partners at Thayer Aerospace which they put up along with other West Point alumni. The two went their separate ways when they sold Thayer Aerospace but when Mike Pompeo was appointed director of the Central Intelligence Agency, he recruited Brian Bulatao as chief operating officer (otherwise known as executive director) of the CIA.

Following the closed-door meeting with President Duterte on Thursday, we had a “1+1” meeting with Secretary Teddy Locsin, Secretary Pompeo, US Ambassador Sung Kim and myself on Friday where we had a very straightforward and frank discussion.

It was good to know that the US and the Philippines will continue bilateral discussions on other issues. We all agreed that it is in our mutual interest that no matter what, we will work together in strengthening our long-standing alliance even more and expand bilateral economic relations and continue to pursue negotiations for a free trade agreement. 

Secretary Pompeo and Secretary Locsin both recognize that the alliance should also effectively address other non-traditional issues such as defense equipment procurement, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and most important of all, human trafficking. As Secretary Locsin noted, the operative word is mutual – and that more importantly, there should be a sincere mutual desire to help and be helped.

As I earlier said on the issue of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, Secretary Pompeo reiterated President Trump’s message: “We have your back” – which is reassuring to the majority of Filipinos. Even during the meeting that Secretary Locsin and I had with Secretary Pompeo in Washington, D.C. last December – the first one between the two, in fact – the US official already told us about President Trump’s message of reassurance.

During that meeting in Washington, Secretary Locsin invited his US counterpart to visit the Philippines, who replied that he will do so when he is “around the neighborhood” – which is what he did after his recent trip to Vietnam for the second Trump-Kim summit.

The meeting with Secretary Pompeo went really well, underscoring the continued strong ties between the US and the Philippines despite concerns involving China which has been showing aggression in the West Philippine Sea.

When all is said and done, we will see and appreciate the wisdom of the president – the chief architect of our foreign policy – in seeking to improve relations with all countries, including China, while continuing to maintain strong ties with traditional allies like the United States. The new independent foreign policy of a Philippines that is a “friend to all and enemy to none” should enable Filipinos to sleep well at night knowing that we are on the right track.

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Email: babeseyeview@gmail.com.

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