New York frenzy: UN General Assembly
BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Babe Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - September 29, 2019 - 12:00am

If there is one time that New Yorkers hate New York, it’s that time of the year when “the city that never sleeps” goes into a frenzy with almost all heads of state plus delegates and diplomats attending the annual UN General Assembly, causing horrendous traffic that is not as bad – but close to – the nightmarish Metro Manila traffic. But when the most powerful man on earth, the President of the United States is in town, the city practically stops. The US president travels with no less than 25 vehicles with traffic at a standstill until he passes through. 

Inevitable – because the main event is of course President Trump’s keynote remarks. The US president practically issued a challenge reminiscent of George Bush’s “either you are with us or against us” statement, though in a less confrontational tone.

“If you want democracy, hold on to your sovereignty… The future belongs to sovereign and independent nations who protect their citizens, respect their neighbors, and honor the differences that make each country special and unique,” President Trump said, underscoring his foreign policy direction.

“We are also revitalizing our alliances by making it very clear that all our partners are expected to pay their fair share of the tremendous defense burden, which the United States has borne in the past,” Trump stressed.

What Trump said is exactly what President Duterte has been saying from day one that every nation’s sovereignty must be respected, and that each one has unique situations and internal problems that it must resolve on its own.

This has always been our message in Washington: We are not here to beg or borrow, but extending a hand in friendship, expecting to be treated as an equal partner in a mutually beneficial relationship, having our own interest to protect. We want to modernize our military and if the US is prepared to sell us what we need, then indeed we are allies and partners with the same common interests.

This, too, is our message regarding our relationship with China. We want to continue trade with our neighbor and expand economic ties. While we don’t have a trade war with China, we do have territorial disputes, and President Duterte was clear during his meeting with President Xi Jinping that “what is ours is ours.”  Nonetheless, we think it best that the solution for maritime disputes will have to be collectively resolved by the ASEAN, especially claimant nations – falling in line with what the US had been saying all along: Claimant nations must peacefully resolve it among themselves.

I joined DFA Secretary Locsin and the Philippine delegation in New York. Secretary Locsin hit it right on the nose during a discussion with Asia Society Policy Institute president Kevin Rudd when he said, “We cannot see any way forward in Asia, with any promise of freedom, without American presence.” 

What is clear is that we are in sync with what the US is saying: We want to assert our sovereignty, we have our own interests to protect, we must be allowed to resolve internal problems on our own. Most of all, we want our military ties with the United States to continue and be strengthened – something that the president has reiterated on many occasions including during the visit of US State Secretary Mike Pompeo last February. President Duterte also assured the US State Secretary that we will honor our Mutual Defense Treaty.

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Sec. Dominguez: ‘Just doing my job’

People who know Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez were not surprised when he declined the “Finance Minister of the Year for Asia Pacific” award by GlobalMarkets, a joint publication for the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. 

Unlike some of our past Cabinet secretaries who would accept awards even from dubious organizations and worse, solicit awards to make themselves look good, Secretary Sonny declined, saying, “I’m just doing my job.”

I have always had great admiration for Sec. Sonny for his integrity – something he is known for even when he served as Agriculture Secretary under Cory Aquino. He made a name for himself by being diligent without seeking attention. Now in his senior years like me, he is serving the government not only because he made a commitment to help his Davao childhood friend, President Duterte, but also because he truly believes the Philippines is poised to become an economic powerhouse under a strong, determined leader.

Aside from President Rody’s strong “power of persuasion” – Sonny Dominguez is the other reason why I joined government for the first – and only – time.

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A heartbreaking story

One of the marching orders we received from President Duterte is to put the welfare and protection of Filipinos first wherever they may be. It is always an honor and a source of pride to see many Filipino-Americans very much appreciated in the US, doing well and recognized as leaders in their communities.

But there are also sad stories, like that of Nanay Fedelina whom I met during an official visit to Los Angeles (her story and photos are featured in This Week on PeopleAsia at the Allure section of the Philippine STAR today).

My mother was a devout Catholic who taught us to respect our household help, and to always say “please” and “thank you” whenever they do something for us. Meeting Nanay Fedelina was very emotional for me because if there is anything I abhor the most, it is when people look down on our workers – more so if they treat them badly. Many years ago, I fired a columnist in our publication for writing insensitive things about OFWs.

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