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Opinion

Steadfast friends, equal partners and enduring allies

DIPLOMATIC POUCH - Heather Variava - The Philippine Star

Friends help each other. Partners respect each other. And allies stand by each other. These values have been central to the US-Philippine relationship for 75 years, and they remain as important as ever. As the world battles another wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have concerns about the coming year. However, as I reflect on our historic bonds and survey the possibilities before us, I am hopeful for our shared future.

I witnessed a poetic symbol of this hope in November when I had the privilege of visiting the majestic Philippine Eagles in Davao. When the newest eagle chick hatched a short time later, I shared the joy and hope of millions of Filipinos who celebrated the continued flourishing of this national treasure, thanks to the dedication of conservationists. Their incredible devotion to protecting eagles reminds us that hope springs from commitment, and I am proud of the commitment that the United States and the Philippines continue to show one another as equal, sovereign partners with a shared future.

While in Davao, I also visited a US government-supported vaccination site where I saw firsthand how COVID-19 vaccines from the United States are protecting Filipinos. The United States has facilitated the donation of more than 65 million vaccine doses to the Philippines through COVAX, including more than 25 million donated by the American people, enough to fully vaccinate more than one in five Filipinos. We have also donated nearly P2 billion in other COVID-19 assistance. This month, I joined a team of nurses and doctors from the US Embassy who trained Department of Health and Red Cross professionals to use pediatric vaccines to protect the children of the Philippines – training that will be provided virtually to health care workers across the country. Soon, 15 million doses of Pfizer vaccine for children will arrive, raising the total to more than 124 million doses of US-branded vaccines in the Philippines.

The United States has also stood beside the people of the Philippines after Typhoon Odette as we support government relief efforts in places like Surigao del Norte, Dinagat Islands, Southern Leyte, Bohol, Palawan and Cebu. Thanks to years of ongoing cooperation and steady planning, we and our partners provided supplies to affected communities within 24 hours. The United States then followed up with more than P1 billion to meet urgent needs like food, water and shelter; and our experts on the ground continue to assess needs so we can walk with the Philippines each step along the road to recovery.

We know that true safety from natural disasters requires a long-term commitment, especially related to climate change. In October, the United States pledged P750 million to help Philippine cities adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change. In November, the Philippines set an ambitious goal of reducing carbon emissions by 75 percent before 2030. Over the next year, we will work together toward this goal by increasing access to green finance, planning new clean energy deployment and bringing US private-sector solutions to support climate-resilient economic development.

Of course, public health and natural disasters are not the only challenges we face together. In November, when the PRC Coast Guard used water cannons against Philippine resupply ships, the United States quickly and firmly reiterated our support for our oldest ally in Asia and affirmed that an “armed attack on Philippine public vessels in the South China Sea would invoke Mutual Defense commitments.” Philippine sovereignty is not negotiable. In October, I had the privilege of turning over four Unmanned Aerial Systems to the Philippine Air Force to strengthen our shared commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. This year, the United States will continue to provide state-of-the-art equipment and participate in combined joint exercises to strengthen Philippine defense capabilities.

There is no guarantee that 2022 will be easy. It has already started with great difficulty for many people. However, I am confident in my hopes for the United States and the Philippines this year because I have seen how much we can accomplish together, and I know that our commitment to steadfast friendship, equal partnership and enduring alliance will give us a safer, stronger and more secure future.

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Heather Variava is the US Embassy Chargé d’Affaires ad interim.

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