Filipino interest in the incoming Biden administration

BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Ambassador B. Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - November 22, 2020 - 12:00am

As expected, the whole world continues to watch the developments unfold with the followers of President Donald Trump questioning the results of the recent US presidential election and alleging widespread fraud, while the camp of former vice president Joe Biden is considering legal action to compel the General Services Administration to formally start the process of transition.

Obviously, there is a high level of interest among many people across the globe – Filipinos most especially – about the possible impact of a Biden administration in terms of foreign policy, security, trade and the economy.

Last Thursday, I had a one-and-a-half hour virtual engagement with the Rotary Club of Manila, the oldest Rotary club in Asia, of which I have been a member for many years now. It was good to see old friends headed by RCM president Bobby Joseph and past presidents Susing Pineda, Jack Rodriguez and Teddy Ocampo. Rotarians from various districts and some of our friends from the media were also in attendance. Clearly, I could see that they were eager to ask about the relationship between the Philippines and the United States under the administration of president-elect Joe Biden. They were particularly interested in how this relationship will be like in the last two years of the Duterte administration. I was very pleased to have a conversation with them, albeit virtually, during the Q & A.

Like many Filipino-Americans in the US, they were curious about the backdoor communications between the Biden transition team and some officials of the Trump administration, knowing fully well the uncertainty is not good for the world, especially during these critical times. During my private conversations with some of my friends in Washington who have seen administrations come and go, they are convinced majority of Americans – whether Republican or Democrat – will ultimately respect the election results.

Rotarians wanted to know about possible Biden appointments of key officials like the Secretary of State. Some names are being mentioned and we have interacted with some of these possible nominees. I am, however, not at liberty to reveal the identities of those we have engaged with for now. One prominent personality being publicly mentioned is Senator Chris Coons of Delaware (a member of the US Senate Foreign Relations committee) who is a close friend of president-elect Biden.

A family friend, Cory Quirino, asked me to forecast US-Philippine relations on a scale of one to 10. This is hard to say of course, but like I told the audience, president-elect Biden is a seasoned politician, has interacted with Fil-Ams working with him in Delaware where he lives – which is why I believe the Philippines will have fairly good relations with the US, notwithstanding some issues that Democrats may have with the Philippines.

I was asked about the possibility of tensions getting stoked relative to alleged human rights violations, but these have actually been raised for many years not only by Democrats but also Republicans even before the administration of President Duterte. I have persistently explained to Democratic senators and congressmen that we are not turning a blind eye on such issues; in fact, we have said that there may have been human rights violations but our government is addressing these concerns, filing cases against members of the police force who are involved in the illegal drugs trade and all were summarily dismissed.

On the South China Sea issue, the Trump administration’s recognition of the 2016 arbitral award by the Permanent Court of Arbitration strengthened the position not only of the Philippines but the other claimant nations. It is worth noting that there was full bipartisan support for the US policy shift regarding the South China Sea. We are confident the Biden administration will continue with this policy.

The US under president-elect Joe Biden may probably move cautiously towards China, although at the moment, the prevailing sentiment among majority of Americans over China is negative. They blame China for being untruthful in reporting the origins of COVID-19. There is also strong condemnation over China’s behavior in the South China Sea not only by Americans but members of the European Union as well.

No doubt both China and the US will not want the issue to escalate into a confrontation, so discussions will most likely continue on where Western nations will want to go regarding the Asian nation. Having said that, I share the belief of many that the Code of Conduct is a first step in establishing peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.

The reality is that we want to maintain relations with both China and the United States. While the US may be our traditional ally, we cannot ignore China, especially now with the Philippines’ recent signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership or RCEP. Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez is very supportive of this development because the Philippines will benefit from this trade agreement as we will be opening our markets or looking at exports through the different RCEP partners.

Like I shared with the audience, I do not really see the Philippines having to choose sides between the US and China. There is wisdom in dealing with all countries all over the world, including China and the US. Both countries know fully well that it is to their own interest that they resolve issues peacefully. Certainly, we do not want to take sides only to be “thrown under the bus” later on, in a manner of speaking. More than anything else, we need to act on what is best for our country.

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