Strong links, shared commitment

Strong links, shared commitment
Philstar 10 Mar 2020

It was that time of the year again, as I have written previously, when the US-Philippines Society (USPS) held its Board of Directors Meeting and Business Mission here in Manila.

The society was launched in 2012 and I remember flying to Washington DC with our chairman, Manuel V. Pangilinan, to attend its inaugural ceremonies.

With headquarters in the US capital, USPS was launched with a mission of enhancing and strengthening relations, and, simultaneously, raising awareness of today’s Philippines through programs on business, governance, culture, shared history, education, strategic issues, and conflict resolution.

Its programs reach policy makers and influencers in DC and beyond, likewise attracting interest from the growing Fil-Am community in the US.

Now on its eighth year, USPS is recognized as the premier organization in both countries that promote Philippines-US relations.

The society is co-chaired by Pangilinan, who hosted the 2020 board meeting, and by John Negroponte, former Deputy Secretary of State and US Ambassador to the Philippines, who led the US delegation.

The highlight of the two-day affair was the 2020 Business, Investment, Political Trends and Global Risks Forum. We cannot overemphasize the importance and relevance of the matters discussed in this forum.

There were three panel discussions: the first was on global and regional political and security risks, Taal impact, and Mindanao update; the second dealt with an election year view from Washington, its political outlook, as well as a discussion on the 2020 Indo-Pacific policy implications; while the third was akin to a trade and investment forum.

The welcome and introduction of speakers was given by Hank Hendrickson, USPS’ hardworking and amiable executive director.

All the speakers were heavyweights. Panel 1 presenters were transnational threats consultant Thomas Sanderson, Department of National Defense security analyst Ann Febel Bajo, Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation (PDRF) president Rene “Butch” Meily, and GE Philippines CEO J.V. Emmanuel de Dios.

Panel 2 presenters were The Cormac Group partner  Jonathan Slade, and Stimson Center senior fellow Prof. William Wise.

Panel 3 discussants were Trade Undersecretary Ceferino  Rodolfo, US-ASEAN Business Council CEO Alexander Feldman, and American Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines senior advisor John Forbes.

Closing remarks were given by Pangilinan and Ambassador John Maisto.

The members of the society’s board of directors also had the opportunity to meet with Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Locsin Jr. to gain a better understanding of the current administration’s foreign policy priorities what with recent developments.

Accompanying the delegation from the US and welcoming them to Manila were my good friends, the Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez, and Honorary Consul Henry Howard. Both gentlemen played a pivotal role to secure the return of the Balangiga Bells.

In the press conference that I moderated, Ambassador Romualdez deftly and eloquently answered questions from the media on the Visiting Forces Agreement.

The two-day program here was also occasion for the society to acknowledge with gratitude the leadership of co-chair Pangilinan. He and director Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala were honored for their work in mobilizing private sector recovery assistance to victims of natural disasters through the PDRF, considered a strong and continuing partner of the society.

The USPS has been a major contributor to disaster relief efforts here in the country. It was able to provide more than $2 million to assist victims of typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) with the support of the Starr Foundation, American companies and individuals, as well as former Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Cuisia Jr. These donations were channeled to organizations like PDRF, the Zuellig Family Foundation, PHINMA Foundation, and the BDO Foundation.

In 2017, the society raised funds to assist displaced families in war-torn Marawi. Most recently, it rendered assistance in kind for the urgent needs of those who were affected or displaced by the recent Taal Volcano eruption.

The society plays an important role in upholding and strengthening the long-standing and deep-seated relationship between the Philippines and the US.

At this time where there is both challenge and opportunity for both countries, and with others in this globalized world, the society harnesses the talents and energies of both Filipinos and Americans in building and expanding relationships towards successes.

In the words of USPS president, Ambassador John Maisto, “We come to Manila to support and strengthen the modern multi-dimensional, 21st-century US-Philippines relationship, and to seek advice and support for carrying the society’s mission forward in a new year and new decade.”

I share in his hope and that of the other society members as well.