US-Phl relations: Our key messages

BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Ambassador B. Romualdez - The Philippine Star

I was invited to speak before the Institute of World Politics about Philippines-US relations, and how this relationship plays into the realities and dynamics of ASEAN and the Indo-Pacific. 

The friendship between the Philippines and the US has been in existence for over seven decades, with almost every Filipino family having a connection with America. My grandfather Miguel was appointed mayor of Manila by Governor-General Leonard Wood in 1924, and two of my uncles were also Ambassador to the United States.

The estimated 4.3 million Filipino-Americans all over the US are very much appreciated in their respective communities – and the deep people-to-people ties underpin the friendship between our nations.  

Below are excerpts of my speech and issues discussed during the open forum, which serve as my messaging theme in most speaking engagements in Washington and across the US.

In setting an independent foreign policy, President Duterte does not want us to be too dependent on one country especially the US for everything and anything especially on the economic aspect – and I’m certain the Trump administration appreciates this.   

While we continually nurture and strengthen our long-standing partnerships with traditional allies led by the US, we also want to be friends with other countries to fully explore our potential for economic development. 

We export a lot of products, and we have close to 12 million Filipino workers all over the world whose welfare is one of the priority concerns of the Duterte administration. Which is why it is critical to develop good relations with many nations including those that are technically “not friends” with the US like Iran, where we have over a thousand OFWs. 

Let me however stress that the Philippines values its strategic alliance with the US, as well as our collaboration on maritime security, surveillance, and interdiction. Military-to-military exercises have actually increased under the current US and Philippine administrations. President Duterte himself admits that our military alliance is very strong because many Filipino officers were trained in the US.

Our Mutual Defense Treaty remains a hallmark of our ties, and we welcome America’s openness to discuss the MDT for a clearer interpretation of key provisions while making it more responsive to current and shared security requirements. 

There is great uncertainty hovering over our part of the world. The seemingly unbridled great power competition between the US and China threatens to derail drivers of regional and global economic growth. 

The question now is whether the two major powers see no other choice but to tread a path toward zero-sum competition. But there is always the option of strategic restraint, and an open and rules-based regional architecture can help curtail one country’s incessant drive to prevail upon another.

In this environment of heightened competition between the US and China, the inherent value of ASEAN centrality in our region’s affairs must be recognized as it can build confidence, deepen integration, and foster unity among ASEAN members and hopefully among dialogue partners including the US and China.

The ASEAN “Outlook on the Indo-Pacific” defines the Indo-Pacific as a region not of rivalry but of dialogue, cooperation, development, and prosperity. It highlights the importance of the maritime domain, while laying down possible general streams for cooperation: maritime, economic, sustainable development, and connectivity.

The Philippines fully supports these principles and ideals. Thus, we strive to abide by the dictum, “Friend to all, enemy to none.”

However, the Philippine position on the South China Sea is clear: We want to solve this problem peacefully and in accordance with international law. We remain optimistic that the best path is still diplomacy that enables negotiations and possible compromises.  

While China has consistently rejected the arbitral ruling that decided against its actions, no less than President Duterte has conveyed to President Xi that the arbitral ruling is final, binding and not subject to appeal, and that the Philippines also counts on China’s own self-restraint and cooperation not to further raise tensions in the South China Sea. 

The reality is that world peace is still uncertain because of the volatile environment with regard to the South China Sea and developments involving North Korea and Iran. With America at the forefront, we hope US legislators will see the big picture and focus on critical issues knowing the world is facing a lot of uncertainty. 

Like in all relationships there are opportunities and challenges in the US-Philippines alliance.

We have economic complementarities such as the synergy between the Philippines’ massive infrastructure program and the rolling out by the US of projects under the US BUILD Act, the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act and the Indo-Pacific Strategy.  

This alliance strengthens our collective ability to better respond to evolving threats – whether security-related, economic, societal, or environmental – at regional and global levels. 

Sadly, despite best efforts to highlight the critical importance of “big picture” thinking in furthering our alliance, a few US legislators continue to make unfair conclusions on issues better left to Philippine courts.

The Philippines and the United States are long-time friends and allies, and we come into this friendship as an independent and sovereign state that stands in parity with all other states. 

We are no longer a US colony, and we expect to be treated as a sovereign nation – an equal partner with unique domestic issues that we must resolve on our own.   

Countries are like people – relationships between them must be nurtured and cultivated. Respect is essential, for without it, overcoming differences would be difficult if not impossible… but we are hopeful that cooperation will always be a viable option even when disagreements arise.

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Email: [email protected]



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