VIRTUAL REALITY - Tony Lopez - The Philippine Star

“It’s been a while since you’ve been here,” US President Joseph Biden greeted President Ferdinand Romualdez Marcos Jr., 65, as he and his official party were welcomed at the White House on May 2, Tuesday, Manila evening time.

Forty-one years ago, in 1982, Bongbong Marcos was a dashing young man when his father, President Ferdinand Edralin Marcos Sr., and mom, the First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos, were treated with a pomp-and-circumstance South Lawn welcome ceremony (I was there), a substantial one-on-one talk with US President Ronald Reagan and a glittering garden state dinner later in the evening.

Reagan was an unabashed Marcos admirer. “The Philippines and you, Mr. President, play an important role in addressing the problems of economic development in the world,” he told the  Filipino leader. “Under your leadership at home, the Philippines can boast a record of solid economic growth over the past decade, attributable in significant part to its hospitable attitude toward free enterprise and private initiative.”

Reagan also acknowledged Marcos’ and the Philippines’ role in this world. He said: “Our security relationship is an essential element in maintaining peace in the region and is so recognized. This relationship, one of several we have in the Western Pacific, threatens no one but contributes to the shield behind which the whole region can develop socially and economically.”

The American leader added: “Mr. President, under your leadership the Philippines stands as a recognized force for peace and security in Southeast Asia through its bilateral efforts and through its role in ASEAN, which is the focus of our regional policies in Southeast Asia.”

In reply, Marcos Sr. declared from memory: “Destiny has decreed that the United States of America be the trustee of modern civilization against the threat of a possible second Dark Ages. And America cannot fail,” he told Reagan. “If America fails, then the world is lost.”

The May 2 White House welcome for Marcos Jr. was devoid of frills and soaring rhetoric.

Philippine-US relations have evolved, “as we faced the challenges of the new century,” Marcos Jr. has said.

Biden agreed. He told his barong-clad guest: “We are facing new challenges. I can’t think of any better partner to have than you... This relationship has to continue to evolve. And together, we’re tackling climate change, we’re accelerating our countries’ transition to clean energy and we’re standing up for our shared democratic values and workers’ rights and the rule of law. And together, we’re deepening our economic cooperation, which is going to continue to deepen and I think is mutually beneficial.”

Biden declared what is music to Marcos Jr.: “The United States also reminds ironclad in our – remains ironclad in our commitment to the defense of the Philippines, including the South China Sea, and we’re going to continue to support the Philippines’ military modernization goals. Mr. President, our countries not only share a strong partnership, we share a deep friendship – one that has been enriched by millions of Filipino Americans in the communities all across the United States of America.”

Marcos replied: “In the difficult times that we are facing, ahead of us, we need to find many ways to strengthen our alliances and our partnerships in the face of the new economy that we are facing post-pandemic. Beyond that, there are also the issues, geopolitical issues that have made the region where the Philippines is, possibly, arguably the most complicated geopolitical situation in the world right now.”

BBM explained: “It is only natural that – for the Philippines to look to its sole treaty partner in the world, to strengthen and to redefine the relationship that we have and the roles that we play in the face of those rising tensions around the South China Sea and Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific regions.”

Today’s Filipino-American friendship is not all about war and geopolitics, however. There is the question of money. Money that creates jobs and economic activity – as in trade, investment, official development assistance (ODA).

In 1979, Marcos got compensation for the two major bases, Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base: $500 million a year – $200 million in economic support, $250 million in military credits and $50 million in grant military aid.  That agreement expired in 1999.

Marcos Jr. has allowed the US access to four more military bases in the Philippines where it can store weapons and rotate troops, on top of the five agreed to previously by past administrations, for an unprecedented total of nine. The four new bases include two in Cagayan, one in Palawan and one in Cagayan de Oro where there are already operating ports or airports.

Aware perhaps that the US must have gotten much (nine bases) by paying virtually nothing, Biden told Marcos Tuesday: “I’m sending a first-of-its-kind presidential trade and investment mission to the Philippines” with the highest caliber US business leaders and, as the White House explained, “to enhance US companies’ investment in the Philippines’ innovation economy, its clean energy transition and critical minerals sector, and the food security of its people.”

Aside from giving $500 million yearly for the use of Clark and Subic, the US used to be the Philippines’ No. 1 trade partner, No. 1 investor and No. 1 source of tourists. Not anymore.

As of June 2020, the US is the top destination of overseas Filipinos. About 4.21 million Filipinos live in the US, making them the biggest source of OFW remittances.

In 2022, net FDI amounted to $250.39 million. For January 2023, net FDI from the US was $10.18 million.

The US remains an important source of ODA, mostly in health, peace and humanitarian assistance. In 2021, US ODA was  $629.69 million, 1.95 percent of its total ODA. The US is seventh in ODA sources (loans and grants) and No. 1 in ODA grants to the Philippines.

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