Flurry of activity in Washington

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

This week has seen a flurry of activity at the Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C. with a stream of our government officials arriving, among them Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez and Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Ben Diokno, who led the Philippine delegation for the week-long World Bank and IMF Spring Meetings that will end this Sunday.

Last year, meetings were all held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But this year, they were in hybrid format, with delegates either joining in-person or remotely. The in-person meetings are an indication that the COVID situation is improving, but nonetheless, it seems hybrid meetings are getting very popular and, more importantly, very effective.

As conveyed by IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva, the Spring Meetings happen at “a consequential moment for the world” as we are “facing crisis upon crisis,” with the war in Ukraine exacerbating global concerns regarding efforts to rebound from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. “It is like being hit by another storm before we have recovered from the last one,” Georgieva said, adding that this is a massive setback for the global economy.

At another event, we had Trade Secretary Mon Lopez at the Philippine Embassy to meet with select members of the US-ASEAN Business Council and the US-Philippines Society. Sec. Lopez also met with US Trade Representative Ambassador Katherine Tai and Department of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo to discuss how the US and the Philippines can further boost economic ties. Aside from trade and investment issues, the discussions also delved on sectoral and industry cooperation and the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework or IPEF which the United States plans to implement soon.

The Philippines is seriously considering becoming one of the founding members or be part of the group of Indo-Pacific nations that will launch the IPEF in Asia soon. The IPEF is an important component of the Indo-Pacific strategy of President Biden, who said that “the future of each of our nations – and indeed the world – depends on a free and open Indo-Pacific enduring and flourishing in the decades ahead.”

Part of the US strategy is to drive Indo-Pacific prosperity through an innovative new framework – the IPEF – which puts forward a “multilateral partnership” that will harness rapid technological transformation, including in the digital economy.

Along with Secretary Lopez and other Trade and Industry officials, Presidential Adviser on Flagship Programs and Projects Vince Dizon met with FedEx officials to discuss plans to expand the operations of FedEx in Clark and allow it to operate as a transshipment hub for packages.

We’re pleased to see that a lot of interest is coming from US firms to invest in the Philippines following the passage of milestone economic policy reforms such as the amendments to the Foreign Investments Act, the Public Service Act and the Retail Trade Liberalization Act that allow more foreign participation in key sectors.

In fact, we hosted a reception at the Philippine Embassy to celebrate the strong and enduring relations between the Philippines and the United States. With us were Executive Secretary BingBong Medialdea, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Locsin, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, Secretary Dominguez, BSP Governor Diokno, Secretary Lopez, Secretary Dizon and other government officials.

Also joining us at the reception were US government officials headed by Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro, Defense Deputy Assistant Secretary Lindsey Ford, White House National Security Council Senior Director Edgard Kagan and State Deputy Assistant Secretary Melissa Brown.

The reception also served as an opportunity to celebrate the conclusion of the agreements for the acquisition of the Subic Bay shipyard that was abandoned by South Korea’s Hanjin Heavy Industries after it declared bankruptcy in 2019 – leaving several Philippine banks that include state-owned Land Bank of the Philippines with more than $412 million in debts, and an additional $900 million from Korean banks.

Cerberus Capital Management – which was represented by co-founder and co-CEO Steve Feinberg as well as top executives Greg Metro and Alex Benard –emerged as the “white knight” whose unwavering commitment resulted in the successful conclusion of the deal that took three years to complete, from the time we started the discussions on the shipyard in Subic Bay.

As noted by Secretary Locsin, this is the biggest public-private partnership in the history of Philippines-US relations. The completion of the agreements will undoubtedly redound to the benefit of the Philippines and the people because of the thousands of jobs that will be generated, not to mention increased economic activity. I am also hopeful that this project will bear the fruit of our efforts for generations to come, and that our collaboration with the United States on this one will result in a much stronger alliance.

On another occasion, I accompanied Defense Secretary Lorenzana to the Pentagon for his meeting with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, and both affirmed the enduring alliance between the two nations. This strong partnership was evident in the recent Balikatan exercises which was the largest ever with 9,000 Philippine and American troops participating.

Aside from coordination and support for the IMF and World Bank Spring Meetings and other activities, I am extremely grateful to our embassy staff who are also very busy with the overseas absentee voting. Many of them even canceled holiday plans to ensure the secure and efficient processing of election packets and mailing them out, rendering over three hours of overtime work every day to respond to voter requests and concerns like last minute change of address, processing of media accreditations, etc. despite delays from the Comelec – sacrificing weekend plans to serve Filipino citizens.

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