Saturday, July 02, 2005

Filipino-American Friendship Month

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The Philippines and the United States: An enduring alliance

(Speech of Dr. Alberto G. Romulo, Secretary of Foreign Affairs, at The Heritage Foundation, Washington, D.C., May 18, 2005)

Filipino and Americans have been friends for more than a century. Americans have enjoyed longer, closer and more cordial relations with Filipinos than with any other people in Asia. These ties are firmly based on shared historical experiences, on a common commitment to democracy, and on the heritage of free and open societies.

Filipino-American friendship

Filipinos were among the few Asians to stand with the United States and the allies throughout World War II. The bonds of friendship between the Philippines and America have been forged in the battlefields of freedom, in the foxholes of Bataan and Corregidor by thousands of brave and courageous soldiers who fought and died together for their beliefs and ideals. There were those who wanted to bypass the Philippines on the way to Japan. But, General MacArthur stood his ground. Strategically and politically, General MacArthur argued for the liberation of the Philippines and President Roosevelt agreed with him.

After that global conflict, we concluded a Mutual Defense Treaty, the first one between the United States and an Asian country. The MDT, as part of America’s system of Asia-Pacific alliances, successfully deterred communist aggression.

The Philippines joined the United States and the United Nations to fight for freedom during the Korean War. We supported the United States in the Vietnam War and the long years of the Cold War. When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, the Philippines aided the multilateral coalition in the first Gulf War.

Democratic alliance

As the oldest democracy and the first republic in Asia, the Philippines welcomes the emphasis on democracy and freedom in US foreign policy. As the first country to peacefully overthrow a dictator, we contributed also to the advance of modern democracy.

Our People Power Revolution in 1986, paved the end of the Cold War by inspiring democracy movements all over the world. Philippine People Power proved to be the catalyst that would bring down the walls and curtains in Europe and in the world.

We joined other United Nations members in peacekeeping for stability and democracy in Cambodia, Haiti, Kosovo, Liberia and East Timor.

Today, our past record of common endeavor and sacrifice bolsters us in our fight against the modern scourge of global terrorism. Here again, the Philippines came forward as the first country in Asia to give full support to the international coalition immediately after the 9/11. To liberate Afghanistan from the Taliban, the Philippines supported Operation Enduring Freedom. We helped pass crucial UN Security Council Resolutions that opened the way for democracy in Iraq, and we backed Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Shared interests and challenges in the Asia Pacific

Looking forward, then, we can confidently expect to deepen further our cooperation in this new century. As an Asian nation, the Philippines seeks regional stability, security and prosperity in Asia Pacific and in Southeast Asia. As an Asia-Pacific power, the United States seeks the same in its global strategy. Indeed, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and President George W. Bush have brought our partnership to its strongest point of the past decade. A successful exchange of State Visits in 2003 highlighted this growing closeness.

Realities of Philippine foreign policy

In terms of addressing the contemporary world, and of considering Philippine-American relations, President Arroyo has identified eight realities that shape Philippine foreign policy today.

The first reality is that the United States, Japan and China have a determining influence in the security situation and economic evolution of East Asia. In this context, the Philippine-American alliance is critical. Our alliance buttresses America’s presence in the region, and it allows us to work with greater purpose in our concerted drive to defeat the terrorists in our midst.

The magnificent response of the US military during the tsunami also illustrates the flexibility of this presence in assisting the region. In like manner, we deeply appreciate similar American assistance for natural disasters in the Philippines.

Japan, the region’s major economic powerhouse, is a close friend. We welcome Tokyo’s interest in becoming more active in regional security and economic cooperation, as well as its aspirations in the United Nations Security Council.

Like the United States, we are developing constructive relations with China. We believe that Beijing should come forward in reassuring its neighbors on matters of security, especially given the steady growth in its defense spending. At the same time, China’s commerce can boost the prosperity of all.

The Philippines is a living example of how China’s growth can fuel progress and development in neighboring countries. China’s increasing wealth propelled our bilateral trade to grow by an average of 41 percent since 2003. Total trade with China last year was at $13.3 billion, in favor of the Philippines.

A friendly, prosperous and increasingly open China is a powerful stabilizing force for the region and the world. The visit last month to the Philippines of President Hu Jintao was a success on this score. We signed fourteen agreements for a total of $1 .7 billion in investment for the Philippines, in energy, mining and infrastructure.

Encouraging Beijing to expand its external contacts and to be more involved in regional cooperation with other Asia-Pacific nations is the way forward. China is already in APEC and the Asean Regional Forum. Other building blocks for networking with China are the Asean dialogue, the Asean-Plus-Three and the East Asian Summit process.

In particular, we encourage the multilateral efforts of the United States, Japan and China to achieve a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, in concert with Seoul and Pyongyang. The Six-Party talks should resume and North Korea should respect international nuclear responsibilities.

Regional and international cooperation

The second reality is that Philippine foreign policy will become increasingly linked to Asean’s development. We are determined to advance Asean’s integration through AFTA and other initiatives. We will strengthen Asean’s global competitiveness. As President Arroyo observed recently, if Asean’s integration succeeds, its mega-market could well become a “second China.”

Asean was a driving force behind APEC and the ARF, and has the same role in the emerging East Asian regional community. Since the growth of that community will depend on openness, we believe the United States and other partners of the region ought to be involved in the East Asian Summit process.

The United States should also support Asean’s potential, not only in trade and investment, but also as an actor in promoting regional stability. Asean has long a force for peace. It has been tolerant and receptive to openness overall. Its Muslim members are leaders of Islamic moderation and modernity.

Similarly, we want to work more closely with the United States in APEC. We need a renewed focus on expanding regional growth, even as we move to aggressively protect our economies from terrorist attack

Democracy is also advancing in Asean. We have made it clear to Myanmar that Aung San Suu Kyi, should be freed, that the NLD should be part of the political process, and that attainment of its democracy and national reconciliation roadmap should be accelerated. Myan­mar now has to consider Asean’s larger interests.

World Islam

The third reality is that the international Islamic community will be increasingly important to the Philippines. Islamic nations host many Filipinos working overseas as well as supply most of our oil imports. Islamic countries in Asean, notably Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam, as well as the Organization of the Islamic Conference, are key partners in our peace process.

The Philippines appreciates that the United States is now reaching out more to Muslims around the world. This should be a priority to assuage apprehensions among Muslims in connection with the war on terror.

The Philippines is promoting greater inter-faith dialogue to bridge the communal divide, at home and overseas. Last year, the UN General Assembly approved our proposal for an inter-faith dialogue among nations and civilizations.

Greater exchanges between faiths can foster reconciliation, justice, the rule of law and lasting peace. We would be glad to work alongside the United States in this effort, which is amendable to American faith-based initiatives.

United Nations reform

The fourth reality is we believe multilateral and interregional organizations should redefine their roles in promoting the common interest. We have proposed a UN Security Council Summit to enhance the effectiveness of the Council in preserving global peace and security.

We seek other UN reforms, particularly the creation of a Human Rights Council to replace the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), the creation of a UN Peace Building Commission, and the expansion of the UN Security Council.

I have just been in New York for the Review Conference of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Global discussions of this nature forge the consensus we need to manage urgent global issues. The United States, therefore, should exercise leadership in working with others to reform the world body.

In defense of the country

The fifth reality is the protection of the nation’s sovereignty, environment and natural resources, which require that other nations respect our rights over maritime territory. Our response has been comprehensive, covering defense modernization and active diplomacy.

On both fronts, we are working with the United States and our neighbors. We are now undertaking, with American assistance, a Philippine Defense Review Program (PDRP), which aims to reform, build capacity and lay the foundation for future modernization in the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

The immediate concern is counter-terrorism, but systemic improvements will help the broader capacity-building agenda of the armed forces. Greater security efficiency overall will bolster Philippine territorial defense in the long run as well.

Diplomatic flash points

In the diplomatic arena, the Philippines spearheaded regional dialogue and codes of conduct to contain disputes in the South China Sea. Last March, we entered into a tripartite Philippines-China-Vietnam agreement for a joint marine seismic undertaking. These initiatives will transform the South China Sea from a zone of contention into a zone of development and cooperation.

The South China Sea is only part of a string of possible maritime flashpoints all down the East Asian coastline. From the Yellow Sea to the Straits of Malacca, there are disputes and other problems, such as piracy and smuggling in the high seas. These security threats can have links to terrorism since both are underground. For this reason, we must intensify regional efforts towards preventive diplomacy, and for greater coast guard and law enforcement cooperation.

Economic reforms

The sixth reality is that Philippine economic growth will require continued foreign investment. We seek investments from all sources. We also know that success in this area calls for reform and modernization in the Philippine economy. Towards that end, President Arroyo has focused on poverty alleviation, the country’s biggest challenge. She has a ten-point anti-poverty agenda to enhance employment, education and basic services. The aim is to halve the country’s poverty rate by the end of this decade.

The Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan provides the country’s growth blueprint from 2004 to 2010. The MTPDP focuses on investment in people, the physical environment and infrastructure. Jeffrey Sachs, Special Adviser to the U.N. Secretary General on the Millennium Development Goals, lauded the Plan as among the best in existence.

Progress in the reform drive

Our economic progress has directly uplifted the lives of the Filipino people. Last year, 1.24 million jobs were created. Educational facilities and student loans have been enhanced.

Our fiscal consolidation program is a year ahead of schedule, with the national government deficit improving significantly to 3.8 percent of GDP. The consolidated public sector deficit is also lower than the program due to this reduced deficit and lower losses from the National Power Corp.

We have already taken additional legislative and administrative steps to raise revenue, which the new Expanded VAT will increase further. Against a target of P80 billion in new revenues, the recently passed VAT law is expected to generate a low of P110 billion to a high of 140 billion pesos in new revenues.

Transportation and communications improvements are decentralizing development. The country instituted the landmark Electric Power Industry Reform Act . Ninety-percent electrification has been attained at the barangay or village level.

Manila, the county’s capital megapolis, is being decongested. Alternate growth centers, like Cebu and Subic, benefit from new power and infrastructure.

Growth figures

Philippine GDP grew 6.1 percent last year, the country’s best performance in fifteen years, while Philippine exports increased nearly 10 percent.

Inflation, interest rates and international reserves are all within comfortable ranges. The peso-­dollar exchange rate is stable. The fiscal situation is being managed through systemic reform and revenue enhancement measures.

The decision of the Philippine Supreme Court to allow foreign participation in Philippine mining opens the door to as much as $6 billion in fresh investment.

We are very competitive in manpower for the information and communications technology sector. The Philippines is a major player in global sourcing. We are third only to India and China in call centers.

In the heart of East Asia, we are an ideal regional corporate hub and a site for BPO and other businesses that need our abundant skilled workers.

Energy security

But development can be derailed by unsustainably high oil prices. At the Asian-African Summit last month, President Arroyo sounded the call for stronger and collective efforts in resolving high oil prices that might trigger a full-blown economic crisis. She asked the leaders of Asia and Africa to do their share to stabilize prices in the long-term.

Economic progress and security

Economic progress, furthermore, is essential for security. President Arroyo was one of the first leaders to underscore the nexus between poverty and terrorism. At the U.N. General Assembly in November 2001, on her first visit as President, she observed:

“No nation will indefinitely endure the yawning gap between rich and poor - a gap that is only growing bigger not just within but across the countries of the world. It is this growing disparity between the ever fewer rich and the ever more poor that has given terrorism the freedom of movement and impunity from accountability that it has enjoyed.”

The seventh reality is that the Philippines can benefit most quickly from developing tourism. Prospects remain strong. Despite negative publicity and travel advisories, tourist travel to the Philippines grew last year.

Economic cooperation with the United States

Economic cooperation, therefore, is vital for both Philippine development and security. USAID has extended critical assistance to support Philippine efforts to enhance public and family health, to control corruption, to improve governance, and to more effectively manage our natural resources.

We have a new avenue of cooperation under the Millennium Challenge Account, which is the special development initiative of the Bush Administration. Furthermore, The United States has proposed a bilateral FTA to the Philippines. At this stage, each side has begun its own cost-benefit study of an FTA.

Peace and development in Mindanao

Mindanao is a special focus of Philippine-American cooperation, and receives two-thirds of annual USAID assistance. American support for the peace process, with Malaysia and the OIC, is invaluable. The United States Institute of Peace has come forward to assist with its experience in conflict management.

Last month, the seventh round of exploratory talks between representatives of the Philippine Government and of the MILF made important headway in Port Dickson, Malaysia. We tackled agenda items for the formal talks, including the sensitive issue of ancestral domain. With a negotiated ceasefire holding in place, we now have greater momentum towards a final peace settlement.

Our ultimate aim is lasting peace for Mindanao, which will bring development and a better quality of life for all communities. This will do much, in turn, to safeguard Southeast Asia and America from terrorism.

Economic cooperation with the United States

Economic cooperation, therefore, is vital for both Philippine development and security. USAID has extended critical assistance to support Philippine efforts to enhance public and family health, to control corruption, to improve governance, and to more effectively manage our natural

Resources. We have a new avenue of cooperation under the Millennium Challenge Account, which is the special development initiative of the Bush Administration. Furthermore, the United States has proposed a bilateral FTA to the Philippines. At this stage, each side has begun its own cost-benefit study of an FTA.

Peace and development in Mindanao

Mindanao is a special focus of Philippine-American cooperation, and receives two-thirds of annual USAID assistance. American support for the peace process, with Malaysia and the OIC, is invaluable. The United States Institute of Peace has come forward to assist with its experience in conflict management.

Last month, the seventh round of exploratory talks between representatives of the Philippine Government and of the MILF made important headway in Port Dickson, Malaysia. We tackled agenda items for the formal talks, including the sensitive issue of ancestral domain. With a negotiated ceasefire holding in place, we now have greater momentum towards a final peace settlement. Our ultimate aim is lasting peace for Mindanao, which will bring development and a better quality of life for all communities. This will do much, in turn, to safeguard Southeast Asia and America from terrorism.

Filipino diaspora

The eighth reality of our foreign policy is that Filipinos overseas will continue to play a critical role in the country’s economic and social stability. About one in ten Filipinos now work or live overseas in the Global Filipino Diaspora. A million and a half are in the Middle East and Gulf region alone. Filipinos overseas remit anywhere from $7 billion to $15 billion a year. Their labor, therefore, constitutes a vital economic lifeline for millions in the Philippines. Their protection and safety is a paramount Philippine concern.

Iraq policy

Given this situation, Angelo de la Cruz came to be seen as a symbolic Filipino everyman in the eyes of his compatriots. Filipinos overwhelmingly welcomed the decision to withdraw the 50-man Philippine humanitarian contingent from Iraq a few weeks ahead of schedule in order to save his life. This action, in promotion of our national interest, protected our unity and democracy, thereby making the Philippines a stronger ally of the United States. Moreover, even as we speak, some six thousand Filipino workers remain in Iraq, where they perform dangerous work for security and nation building. In taking this decision, the Philippines never wavered in its commitment to fight terror, whether at home or abroad.

All of us have a stake in the future of Iraq as a democratic, tolerant and pluralistic society. In June last year, as President of the UN Security Council, the Philippines played a crucial role in healing the political divisions within the United Nations over Iraq and in helping lay the foundations of a free Iraq: After overseeing very difficult negotiations, we forged the consensus behind Security Council Resolution 1546 that called for global action to rebuild Iraq.

Achievements in the war on terrorism

In the Philippines, we have faced down multiple terrorist threats from the communist New Peoples Army, the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf Group and renegade elements from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front. The Philippines has aggressively broken up terrorist plots, including those directed against America and our other friends by the Jemaah Islamiyah, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in the region. With US support, we cut the Abu Sayyaf down from a peak strength of 1,200 to the current level of 300 fragmented fighters.

We captured leading international terrorists, such as Ramzi Youssef, mastermind of the first attack on the Twin Towers, and Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi, who planned to strike the US Embassy in Singapore. We sentenced to death 17 Abu Sayyaf terrorists for the kidnapping and murder of Filipinos and foreigners, including Americans. In total, over the past year, we have neutralized over one hundred terrorists. We have degraded ASG in Basilan with the assistance of the US. Earlier this month, people of Basilan, scene of past battles between our forces and terrorists, turned out to welcome Filipino and American troops arriving for joint training exercises.

The State Department has declared that the “successful prosecution of these members of a violent, terrorist organization demonstrates the resolve of the Philippines to deny sanctuary to terrorists.” Counterterrorism investigations and improved antimoney-laundering measures have disrupted terrorist funding flows. As a result, the Philippines was removed from the Financial Action Task Force Watch list.

We have overrun terrorist camps in Mindanao. Camp Abubakar, in Central Mindanao, once suspected as having terror training facilities, is now a peaceful development zone. The Philippines is an active participant in the “Rewards for Justice” counterterrorism program of the US State Department

In 2003 the Philippines was designated as a Major Non-NATO Ally, another reflection of our close security ties. President Bush himself acknowledged the Philippine contribution to the war against terror in his March 8 speech at the National Defense University. President Busi said:

“We’re more secure ‘because the Philippines’ new antiterrorism task force has helped capture more than a dozen terrorist suspects, including seven members of al-Qaeda and affiliated networks.”

Counterterrorism cooperation with the US

Counterterrorism is a focal point of our cooperation with the United States. The provision of American assistance, training and support has strengthened our ability as a front-line ally to fight the terrorists. By striking together against terrorists in the region, we bolster both the security of the Philippines and of the American heartland. Our countries implemented a particularly effective joint exercise, which rooted out the Abu Sayyaf Group from its main lair on the Southern Philippine Island of Basilan in 2002. This was hailed as a regional counterterrorism success story. We intend to embark on a joint assessment of the deficiencies and needs of the Philippine Police, which will lead to reforms and capabilities enhancement.

Regional and international counterterrorism cooperation

The Philippines has actively promoted regional and international measures to fight global terrorists as well. President Arroyo led the conclusion of Asean’s first counterterrorism cooperation agreement with Indonesia and Malaysia. Thailand and Cambodia signed later on.

As chair of the APEC Counterterrorism Task Force and a member of the United Nations Counterterrorism Committee, we are galvanizing the community of nations to resolutely pursue our common struggle.

Winning the war on terrorism

However, the terrorists are not yet defeated and lives continue to be lost. In the past year alone, the Philippines sustained hundreds of military, police and civilian casualties from terror attacks. This is the butcher’s bill we are paying as a front-line ally in the defense of freedom and of freedom and of civilization itself. Yet we will triumph as we have triumphed over all other challenges to democracy and freedom in the past. The Philippines has already done much with the assistance of the United States. It can do more if it has more support. We must maintain the initiative. Assistance levels must remain robust. Now is not the time to ease pressure on the terrorists.

Our alliance has withstood the test of time. Our democracies are resilient. We share the same vision for greater security and prosperity in Asia Pacific. We both seek stronger cooperation for global peace and stability. And together, united and strong, we will win the war on terrorism.

3 comments:

Santi said...

Filipino Veterans Fairness Act Reintroduced

The bill's key provision provides a VA disability pension "notwithstanding any other provision of law... at rate of $100 per month" to an estimated 15,000 poor Philippine-based Filipino veterans.

Bush last year signed into law two bills seeking $16.3 million annually for the health care of 8,000 US-based Filipino veterans and $2.9 million for survivor spousal benefits for 400 widows and full compensation for 120 New Philippine Scouts.

Fil-Am friendship is alive!

jAnE said...

Filipino-American Friendship Day, July 4, is a day in the Philippines designated by President Diosdado Macapagal to commemorate the liberation of the islands by joint Filipino and American forces from the Japanese occupation at the end of World War II, in 1946. Originally, the islands' Independence day, Araw ng Kalayaan, was on this day but Macapagal moved it to June 12. Filipino-American Friendship Day was created in its place, July 4 being the United States' Independence Day.

When was Fil-Am friendship MONTH declared?

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