PBBM US visit will be historic and significant

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

It has been over a decade since a Philippine president visited the White House in Washington, DC. So many things have happened since then, with the world seeing phenomenal technological advancements that gave rise to “smart” gadgets from phones to watches to self-driving vehicles, artificial intelligence, virtual commerce, robotics and many others. But the past decade also brought about the worst and most costly natural disasters in recent history, such as intense flooding, devastating droughts, powerful storms, catastrophic wildfires and deadly hurricanes due to global warming and climate change.

Then came the COVID-19 pandemic that has upended the lives of billions of people all over the world, with its impact still felt today, especially with the endless mutations of the coronavirus that continue to put people at risk of infection. And then there is the war in Ukraine that has spawned a “continuing humanitarian crisis,” as experts put it, triggering an energy crisis in many parts of the world.

In fact, an article published this January at the World Economic Forum (WEF) website describes the “cascading and connected crises” that the world faces at the beginning of 2023 as a “polycrisis” – a term used in the WEF’s “Global Risks Report 2023” to describe a “cluster of related global risks with compounding effects, such that the overall impact exceeds the sum of each part.”

The cascading crises that the world faces, says the WEF report, poses a challenge to global leadership, with leaders “preparing for a long road ahead” – although there is “modest optimism that the crises will recede in the long term.”

It is against this backdrop that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is embarking on an official visit to the United States today to advance the socio-economic and development priorities of the Philippines and, at the same time, harness a closer partnership in many areas that include agriculture, energy, climate change, digital transformation and technology, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, supply chains and infrastructure.

The last time President Marcos Jr. came to Washington, DC was when he accompanied his father in September 1982 on a state visit to the United States upon the invitation of President Ronald Reagan. I was extremely fortunate to join that trip to Washington, working as a news anchor for a major Philippine television network. PBBM was then the vice governor of Ilocos Norte.

This official visit of President Marcos Jr. is undoubtedly historically significant because the outcome will also be of major consequence to the Indo-Pacific region, and perhaps even the world, in terms of discussions regarding defense and security, and in many areas such as climate change which President Marcos Jr. described as “the greatest existential threat” which should be an overarching global concern for all nations.

The President’s four-day schedule is packed full, centering extensively on meetings with the CEOs and top executives of several American companies engaged in nuclear and renewable energy, health care and tourism, among others. One of these companies is NuScale, whose groundbreaking and proprietary technology in designing advanced nuclear small modular reactors has made it an industry leader.

Nuclear energy – which has one of the lowest carbon footprints with no harmful emissions produced during operation – can help the Philippines achieve energy security, which was one of the topics discussed during the recent 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue of Foreign Affairs Secretary Ricky Manalo and Defense officer-in-charge Charlie Galvez with US State Secretary Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

The Philippine economy has shown resilience, having “managed to weather the storms and stay the course towards sustainable economic growth,” as Finance Secretary Ben Diokno told participants during the recent Philippine Economic Briefing in Washington. The International Monetary Fund affirmed this positive economic development with a projection of 6 percent gross domestic product (GDP) growth, while the Asian Development Bank also said the Philippines is on track to achieve its goal of becoming an upper middle-income country.

There is no doubt that the President’s official visit to Washington is a very good opportunity to further increase investments and bring the country to where it should be. Everyone knows that the US is a major bilateral trade and official development assistance partner of the Philippines.

The President, of course, is very much cognizant of “the need to strengthen our own local economy to be able to withstand shocks” such as the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. He also acknowledges that “trade is the key to wealth for any country,” especially in this age of globalization.

“No country grew wealthy without a very strong trade relationship, not only with one or two other countries but with the rest of the world,” the President had said during the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Of course, the highlight of President BBM’s visit would be the meeting between him and President Joe Biden at the Oval Office, where several matters of mutual interest and concern will be discussed by the two leaders. Shortly after the Oval Office meeting, they will then move to the Cabinet room where they will have an expanded meeting joined by key US Cabinet officials and selected members of President Marcos’ Cabinet.

On the ceremonial side, the President will be laying a wreath before the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arlington National Cemetery. He will also be afforded full military honors during a ceremony at the Pentagon grounds – these activities affirming once again the solid bond between the Philippines and the United States.

I have absolutely no doubt that the official US visit of President Marcos will be successful.

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