US Philippines Society

  Raising Awareness of Today's Philippines in the US
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Accelerated Year-end US-PH Security Engagement 

As 2020 drew to a close, top U.S. Officials met in-person with their Philippine counterparts in Manila to reaffirm the importance of the Philippines-U.S. alliance, the value of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), and to sustain support for the Philippines counterterrorism and maritime security initiatives.  The Philippines suspended the decision to terminate the VFA to allow possible renegotiation in 2021 of a stable longer term arrangement. 

On December 8, Acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Christopher C. Miller met with Philippine Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana and Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro Locsin, both of whom favor a VFA review.  Secretary Miller reaffirmed the U.S. commitment for an open South China Sea and cited the importance of the VFA. The U.S donated military hardware, including anti-improvised explosive device equipment, worth $29 million. Miller also participated in the December 9 U.S. ASEAN Defense Ministers meeting.

In a November 23 meeting with Secretary Locsin, then U.S. National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien said the U.S. continues to stand with the Philippines, adding that "whatever happens in the domestic politics of the United States, this is a critical alliance for us." He reaffirmed the U.S. position that "any attack on Philippine armed forces or attempts to take Philippine territory through the use of force will trigger the Mutual Defense Treaty between the two countries. We've got the Philippines' back when it comes to the South China Sea. The natural resources including oil, gas, fisheries in the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines belong to your children and grandchildren, to the people of the Philippines."

NSA O'Brien donated a tranche of precision-guided munitions and other supplementary military equipment to the AFP worth over $18 million. U.S. Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett's visit featured the turnover of a $17.9 million ScanEagle Unmanned Aerial System to the Philippine Navy. The US Drug Enforcement Agency donated various handheld illegal drugs detection and analysis equipment to boost the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency's capabilities. 

At a virtual meeting of the Mutual Defense Board and Security Engagement Board on October 29, U.S. Indo-Pacific Commander Philip Davidson and Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Gilbert Gapay committed to pursuing initiatives for greater interoperability between both countries' armed forces. 

Since 2015, the Philippines has received $650 million in U.S. military assistance, the largest in the Indo-Pacific region. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana thanked the visiting U.S. officials for their support in modernizing defense capabilities.

Engagement on defense matters, including the VFA, are certain to be on the agenda for the 2021 Bilateral Strategic Dialogue, the first to be conducted virtually. 

U.S. National Security Advisor O'Brien, Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro Locsin, U.S. Chargé d'Affaires John Law and military officers touch elbows in solidarity, November 23, 2020. Photo credit: U.S. Indo-Pacific Command 
Panel Discussion on U.S.-PH Security Relations with Foreign Policy Experts 

At an October 21 webinar co-hosted by the US-Philippines Society and the Stimson Center, a panel of leading experts provided insights into the Philippines-U.S. alliance as the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) approaches its 70th anniversary.

Professor William Wise, Chair of the Southeast Asia Forum at the Stimson Center, framed the discussion around three issues: VFA, COVID-19 response and the South China Sea. Panelist Ambassador Thomas Hubbard, former envoy to the Philippines, drew on his experience in negotiating the Visiting Forces Agreement to describe procedures under the VFA for temporary access by U.S. forces to Philippine facilities. In his view, the VFA serves the strategic interests of both countries in meeting emerging security challenges. The US-Philippine alliance has been central to post-WWII stability in the region, and the Philippines remains a 21st century strategic partner and key element in the U.S. concept of an "open and free Indo-Pacific."

Philippine defense and foreign policy expert Dr. Renato Cruz De Castro outlined "peaks and valleys" of the relationship from a Philippine perspective. The alliance reached a crisis point in February 2020 when President Duterte announced his decision to terminate the VFA. The Covid-19 pandemic, deft diplomacy and domestic factors, including the Philippine military's preference for U.S. equipment, opposition from the Philippine Senate, and public opinion led the PH government to "suspend the termination" of the VFA temporarily.

China's increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea and unfulfilled infrastructure commitments in the Philippines have raised questions about the benefits of a tilt toward Beijing. In De Castro's view, the Philippine government concluded that no amount of appeasement will deter China from encroachment in the South China Sea, and that there is value going forward in sustaining security engagement with the United States as a balancer of choice.

The panelists fielded questions about "big power" U.S.-China rivalry, the role of U.S. allies in the region, ASEAN's stance, the Sabah dispute, and commercial use Subic Bay ship repair facilities, among others. 

In response to a question about the MDT, Ambassador Hubbard described how the PH-U.S. alliance is evolving to meet new challenges, including from Chinese assertiveness and global terrorism. Hubbard added that counterterrorism cooperation, humanitarian disaster assistance, and joint efforts to preserve regional stability, especially in the South China Sea, are driving forces in the alliance today.

Also underpinning the alliance are extensive people-to-people ties. The U.S. State Department estimates that more than four million Filipino Americans live in the United States, and more than 350,000 U.S. citizens are in the Philippines, including many veterans.

Professor Wise with assistance of Courtney Weatherby, Stimson Center's Southeast Asia program researcher, moderated the event.

Dec 2020
U.S. service personnel with Coast Guard Station El Nido Commander and students during the First Responders Training and Graduation in Palawan, December 5, 2020. Photo credit: U.S. Embassy Manila
Great Decisions' Foreign Policy Discussions on the Philippines 

US-Philippines Society Executive Director Hank Hendrickson was the featured speaker at the 2020 Foreign Policy Association's forum: "Great Decisions: The Philippines and the U.S." Setting the tone for the October 30 interview-style program, Hendrickson provided an overview of key historical events and described current policy issues in the bilateral relationship.

Open forum participants weighed in on approaches toward China, the Hague Tribunal's South China Sea ruling, Japan's post-war role in assisting Philippine development, the thriving BPO centers in the Philippines, U.S. support during the 2017 Marawi siege, trade issues, the 2022 Philippine presidential election, and more. Hendrickson offered a perspective on U.S. priorities following our November 3rd election. He described a positive and enduring relationship underpinned by shared history, people-to-people linkages and foreign policy cooperation resting on shared mutual interests.

The program was moderated by former U.S. diplomat Michael Carpenter and can be viewed on the US-Philippines Society website. 
US-Philippines Society Executive Director Hank Hendrickson responds to questions on US-Philippines relations at the
FPA's "Great Decisions" virtual program, October 30, 2020

Post-election Analysis: Outcomes and the Biden Administration's Policy Priorities  

At a November 23 post-election virtual roundtable, Washington insider Jonathan Slade presented an in-depth analysis of the U.S. election outcomes, the impact of changing demographics in key states and an update on the electoral college process. He said the electorate voted for divided government, splitting their tickets as the Republicans gained seats in the House and, with Biden's win, the Democratic party re-gained the White House. The Senate is 50-50. 
On policy, Southeast Asia Forum Chair William Wise offered perspectives on priorities of the Biden administration, noting that politics will likely restrain an ambitious agenda and that unforeseen events have a way of diverting focus away from plans. As a first priority, President Biden will put together a national strategy to control the COVID-19 pandemic and chart a path to fully reopen the economy. Biden's swift appointment of John Kerry as "Climate Czar" reflects a whole of government approach to combat climate change, an issue of concern in the Philippines. 
In Asia, the Biden administration will restore strong alliances and partnerships, pursue strategic competition with China and forge cooperation on a global pandemic response and climate change. The administration will move deliberately to explore multilateral Pacific trade engagement and craft defense initiatives to boost confidence and support among Asian partners. Democratic values and human rights will have more emphasis under the Biden administration.

Ambassador Jose Manuel Romualdez offered insights into the Philippine government's Covid-19 response in partnership with the private sector. Repatriation of overseas Filipino workers has been a major ongoing effort of the Philippine government. He thanked US-Philippines Society Founding Director and Honorary Consul Henry B. Howard for providing logistical assistance to stranded Philippine seafarers.

On behalf of the Philippine government, the Philippine Embassy in Washington DC is actively negotiating the procurement of vaccine supplies from U.S. pharmaceutical companies, Pfizer and Moderna. US-Philippines Society Founding Director Enrique Razon has offered to cover shipping costs of vaccines to the Philippines. 

Ambassador Romualdez remains hopeful for a continuation of strong US-Philippines relations under the new administration. He was in consultations with the Biden transition team, and is now active in meeting newly appointed officials. 

He expressed confidence that the US-Philippines Society led by Co-Chair Ambassador John D. Negroponte, will be serving as a helpful bridge during the political transition in Washington. 

Post Election PPT
The Battle for the White House by Jonathan Slade, November 23, 2020

Team Kidlat in Marawi and Tagoloan II, Lanao del Sur (DOH-PCSHC Batch 2019-20)
Team Kidlat in Marawi and Tagoloan II, Lanao del Sur (DOH-PCSHC Batch 2019-20)

Update: Children of Marawi Project

The Barangay Sagonsongan Rural Health Center (RHC) serves the surrounding communities of displaced families in Marawi in partnership with the City Health Office. Education and medical programs including missions are held on site. In 2018-2020, the RHU received medical donations from US-Philippines Society and Project Handclasp Foundation in partnership with the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation.

On February 15-17 2020, young doctors from the Philippine Department of Health held medical-surgical missions in Lanao del Sur. Watch a video featuring a mission in Barangay Sagonsongan RHU on Day One.
Feeding Program in BARMM
 Young students receive nutritional assistance 
Feeding program in the BARMM

Fifty students in the BAAS Public Elementary School in Basilan, Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao Philippines are beneficiaries of a daily breakfast program sponsored by US-Philippines Society Director Henry B. Howard. Access to water and good sanitation are integral part of the program

Fundraising for the Punlaan Training School: Uplifting Lives Against Poverty 

The Manila-based Punlaan School provides vocational training to  underprivileged women to equip them for culinary jobs in the Philippines and prepare for the forthcoming post-Covid19 reality. 

FORGED BY PASSION featuring Margarita Forés, is an online fundraising event hosted by Families in Art and Culture (FIAT) for the benefit of Punlaan Training School.

Ms. Forés is an admired Filipino icon in the culinary industry. She has transcended the challenges of the culinary world in how she chooses to live her life.

The US-Philippines Society supports the expansion of the school facilities including a modern library funded through the generosity of the Starr Foundation and USPHS Honorary Chair Maurice "Hank" Greenberg. Construction was delayed due to the pandemic and has resumed in June 2020.