On January 16, 2020, Ambassador Jose Manual Romualdez, Ambassador of the Republic of the Philippines to the United States, came to speak at IWP. Ambassador Romualdez elaborated on the relationship between the Philippines and the United States and how this relationship is connected to the broader dynamics of the Indo Pacific.
Ambassador Romualdez began the lecture by describing the seventy-year history between the United States and the Philippines, while also touching upon his personal experience. The Ambassador has been living in between the two countries for most of his life and attended school in New York. Many Filipino natives share this bilateral relationship with the U.S. Currently, there are 4.3 million Filipino-Americans living in the United States, and many Filipinos also share common American ancestries.
The Ambassador continued on to address the state of the political and economic relationship between the United States and the Philippines. Amb. Romualdez explained the initial foreign policy set forth by President Rodrigo Duterte, calling for more independence from foreign allies economically, especially the United States. However, Ambassador Romualdez reaffirmed the importance of the relationship continuing to exist but evolving into a more equal partnership.
Additionally, the Ambassador described the robustness of the Filipino-American relationship, evidenced by the 8th Bilateral Treaty dialogue last July. He then stated that the Philippines hopes to continue the alliance based on mutual objectives and interests in the Indo-Pacific region, specifically, the protective military work in maritime security and surveillance.
In terms of defense, the U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty has been in effect for seven decades now, and Secretary Michael Pompeo recently reaffirmed its vitality during a meeting in Manilla last year. The Ambassador stated that the future goals of expanding this treaty include the modernization of military technology for the Philippines.
Ambassador Romualdez then discussed the importance of the relationship in terms of counterterrorism. He acknowledged the importance of American support in liberating and protecting Marawi City from ISIS-affiliated groups in 2017. Ambassador Romualdez stated, “Marawi was a hard lesson, but we gained valuable experience and strengthened our cooperation with the United States in terms of intelligence and surveillance.”
In praising the improved capabilities of the Filipino justice sector, Mr. Ambassador announced that the Philippines continues to have a “tier one” ranking from the U.S. Department of State’s Trafficking and Persons Report for the fourth consecutive year. Ambassador Romualdez put forth that this “revalidated our victim-centered and multi-agency approaches” when it came to dealing with these kinds of high crimes. He then reaffirmed the Philippines’ commitment to remaining as a “tier one” nation and improving upon the initiatives already put in place. The Ambassador also said that he was pleased about the State Department’s recognition of their efforts.
After finishing his thoughts on economic development and the justice system, Ambassador Romualdez circled back to the Indo-Pacific and his propositions for the region. He expressed his concerns about the repercussions that the “great power struggle” between the United States and China could have on regional trade and economic stability. Mr. Ambassador proposed the use of “strategic restraint” as an alternative to the zero-sum policy that he claimed the United States and China were beginning to enact.
In terms of the Asia Pacific region, Mr. Ambassador stressed the need to view these parts of the world as a closely integrated region rather than a territorial space. With a call for greater maritime economic development, Ambassador Romualdez reasserted that the Philippines is a “friend to all, enemy to none.” This correlates to the country’s stance on the South China Sea, which is to address matters diplomatically and peacefully.
Ambassador Romadulez then moved on to other significant aspects of the relationship between the United States and the Philippines. Currently, the U.S. is the Philippines’ 3rd major trading partner, and the Ambassador considered the economic ties to be balanced. He asserted that these strong relations should contribute to containing the Philippines’ ongoing development projects including the “Build, Build, Build” Act, the Asian Reassurance Initiative Act, and the Indo-Pacific Region Strategy. As of right now, the most vital aspect of the relationship, according to the Ambassador, is the bilateral response to emerging regional threats, both economic and security related.
The Ambassador also called upon the United States to help with strengthening the Filipino justice system in order to combat human rights issues domestically.
In conclusion, Ambassador Romualdez assured those in the audience that the Philippines would continue to cooperate and work with the United States in a long-lasting partnership to strengthen both countries and continue their tradition of mutual respect and trust.
Many thanks to IWP Research Professor Paul Coyer for organizing this lecture.