US says: ‘Don’t forget your old friend’

BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Babe Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - July 21, 2019 - 12:00am

In a New York Times article titled, “As Duterte Courts China, US Says Don’t Forget Your Old Friend,” it referenced the discussions during the recently concluded 8th Bilateral Strategic Dialogue (BSD) with the Philippines stressing that “…the country was not drifting into the military orbit of China, despite President Duterte’s perceived warming ties with Beijing and fresh concerns about Beijing’s aggressiveness in the South China Sea” (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/16/world/asia/philippines-united-states-duterte.html).  

“The Philippines has been America’s closest Southeast Asian strategic ally for the last seven decades, with Washington a consistent source of military aid and arms sales to Manila,” the article went further. 

We of course gave assurances that the relationship between the Philippines and the United States remains strong, even perhaps at its best today, with both countries showing mutual respect, recognizing each other’s sovereignty and cooperating on shared concerns. 

These were basically the core discussions during the BSD, an annual dialogue for a wide range of political, security and economic cooperation between the US and the Philippines. Nonetheless, the conversations during the two-day forum which the Philippines hosted were extremely fruitful, with both delegations acknowledging the value of keeping the relationship stable. 

The feeling was very positive and upbeat among the attendees. As a matter of fact, we hosted a dinner to give everyone a chance to relax and enjoy some Filipino food. (See photos in This Week on PeopleAsia at the Allure section of the Philippine STAR today.)

One of the significant discussions involved the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP) and ASEAN centrality which the US acknowledges as integral to its Indo-Pacific Strategy. The AOIP defines the important role of ASEAN considering that Southeast Asia is at the center of the dynamic Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean regions (Indo-Pacific). It is therefore in the interest of ASEAN to take the lead in shaping the regional bloc’s economic and security architecture, and maintain its central role in the evolving dynamics in Southeast Asia and its environs.  

A key concern during the dialogue is violent extremism and mitigating issues resulting from the return of foreign terrorists in the Philippines. This is a serious issue that can impact not only the security of our nation but the rest of Southeast Asia and beyond, as ISIS and other extremist groups are bent on spreading their network of terror on a global scale, which is why improved information and intelligence sharing is critical as well as enhancing port and aviation security, among other initiatives.  

The US and the Philippines reaffirmed their “commitment to uphold freedom of navigation, overflight and other lawful uses of the South China Sea” and emphasized “the importance of concluding an effective and substantive Code of Conduct (COC) that would not prejudice the rights under international law of both claimant states and non-claimant states in the SCS.” 

President Duterte brought attention to the need for a COC to prevent the escalation of tension in the South China Sea during the ASEAN summit in Bangkok. As Assistant Secretary Stilwell noted, the Philippines being a claimant state in the South China Sea is well positioned to ensure that the COC text is fully consistent with international law, protecting freedom of navigation and overflight as well as the right of claimant states to “pursue security arrangements with partners of their choosing.” 

The other night, I went to see the president and reported about the outcome of the Bilateral Strategic Dialogue. The president very clearly told me: “We will not turn our back on the United States” – which is why I can say with absolute certainty that this alliance between the US and the Philippines will continue to be robust and will endure, going beyond economic, military and political cooperation.

The fact is, Filipinos will always look upon the United States as our most important partner and most trustworthy ally. Previous surveys conducted by the Social Weather Stations and Pulse Asia prove this, and was once again evident in the latest SWS survey that showed 81 percent of Filipinos having “much trust” in the US compared to China whose net trust rating has dipped to negative 24.  

For herein lies the great anchor that keeps this special partnership grounded, stable, strong and reliable: Our deep people-to-people ties, underscored by the presence of over 4.3 million Filipino-Americans working and residing in the United States. This strong affinity for the US goes back to several generations – 74 years ago, in fact – when General Douglas Mac-Arthur made good on the promise he gave Filipinos during a critical time in our history: “I shall return.”  

This has left a deep and lasting mark on the hearts and minds of Filipinos who suffered during World War II, with the succeeding generations captivated by the story of the “American Caesar” and how his fulfillment of a moral obligation ultimately led to the liberation of the Philippines from Japanese occupation – something that has been kept alive through history books. 

MacArthur – who was made an honorary citizen of the Philippines – has left a lasting impression among Filipinos who will never forget his role in bringing the people out from one of the darkest periods in Philippine history. And that is why this relationship will continue to be strong no matter what, and why no nation will ever be able to drive a wedge between the Philippines and the United States. For while we may pursue new alliances and partnerships, we will never forget that indeed, we have a true “old friend.”

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Email: babeseyeview@gmail.com

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