Philippines: An Ally Getting its Due
Jun 12, 2012 -
It is an exciting time in the U.S.-Philippines alliance. Last week, President Aquino visited Washington for a three-day working visit. The Philippines has arrived, was the message.
Among other things, President Aquino christened the U.S.-Philippine Society, had an Oval Office sit-down and State Department lunch. I’ve been to such events over the years. So I can say there was a buzz in the air that made this visit different. Having chaired a hearing to improve our ties, it's great to see the U.S.-Philippines relationship getting its due.
There's a lot on the agenda. Security ties have been getting the headlines. As the U.S. steps up its presence in Asia –helping trade routes stay open – the Philippines is key. With China pushing limits in Southeast Asia, countries in the region are begging for the U.S. to be more present in their neighborhood. I have pushed for surplus military items to be transferred to the Philippines. At the lunch hosted by Secretary Clinton, it was announced that the U.S. will back the construction of a National Coast Watch Center, followed by training, to help the Philippines monitor its coastline. A second, decommissioned Coast Guard cutter will be sent to Manila too.
While it's relatively easy for security ties to be ramped up, commercial engagement takes longer. As much as I would like to see more U.S. investment in the Philippines --and Filipino-Americans stand ready and able-- investment is like a rope: it can’t be pushed-in by government dictate, but must be pulled-in with sound government policies. So it was heartening to hear President Aquino emphasize his governance agenda. He even cited judicial inefficiency and vulnerability to political influence (aka "corruption") as problems that need work. Everyone I talk to is giving Aquino’s governance agenda good marks after two years in office. While the President has his work cut-out for him, corruption is a big problem, the pay-off could be big.