President Duterte Welcomes the US-Philippines Society
February 20, 2019
Directors of the US-Philippines Society concluded a highly successful five-day business mission to the Philippines on February 20 with a call on President Rodrigo R. Duterte, who welcomed the Society’s bi-national board, led by Co-chair Manuel V. Pangilinan and Society President Ambassador John F. Maisto. The president cited the steady Philippines-United States relationship, and expressed confidence in continuing bilateral cooperation across the board. He expressed appreciation for the work of the Society and its members on the return of the Bells of Balangiga. Senior Philippine cabinet officials, along with Ambassadors Jose M. Romualdez and Sung Y. Kim, participated in a discussion aimed at exploring expanded business opportunities and sustaining strategic cooperation. The USPS delegation registered support for enhanced bilateral trade arrangements, including a Free Trade Agreement, and assured the president that American business is eager to participate in new partnership opportunities, especially in the energy, infrastructure, and ICT sectors. The Society also pledged support for a Philippine trade and investment mission to the United States this April.
In a February 18 meeting with legislative leaders, including Senator Koko Pimentel and Representatives Max Rodriguez and Jess Manolo, the delegation discussed the Philippines 2019 congressional agenda, prospects for progress in Mindanao under new autonomy arrangements and transportation partnerships, including in the maritime industry. Sen Pimentel reviewed progress on implementation of the president’s campaign agenda as the Duterte administration approaches mid-term. On February 19, Chair of the Economic and Energy committees, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, assured the delegation that the Philippines welcomes the prospect of increased trade and investment, and participation by American companies in meeting the country’s energy needs and technology requirements.
NEDA chief Ernesto Pernia and DTI Assistant Secretary Allan Gepty briefed the delegation on the Philippine economy, noting sustained GDP growth, investment grade ratings, and skilled labor force, offering exceptional promise for foreign investors. Both cited the importance of maintaining longstanding U.S.-Philippine trade and investment ties and exploration of new opportunities under the proposed FTA.
The American embassy’s senior commercial officer, Diane Jones, outlined a series of recent U.S. government initiatives, including bipartisan support for the “Build Act” aimed at increasing the competitiveness of American business in region, including in the Philippines.
Former American ambassador to the Philippines Frank Wisner keynoted the Society’s Business Forum organized with support from the Makati Business Club and the AmCham. Wisner’s presentation cited unique features in the Philippines-U.S. relationship, endorsed a bilateral FTA, detailed the challenges of a changing regional landscape and the promise of effective partnerships into the future. USPS co-chairs Manuel V. Pangilinan and John D. Negroponte provided the forum with dual but complementary Philippine and American perspectives, noting the need to take advantage of new opportunities to forge modern business partnerships.
President of the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation (PDRF) Rene Meily offered an update on health and childhood education projects launched by the USPS to assist evacuees from the Marawi siege. PDRF is headed by Society co-chair Pangilinan and director Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala. Society director Paul Shmotolokha of Alpha Technologies briefed on plans to supply cost-free off-grid electric power to evacuee communities in parts of Lanao del Sur. Mindanao Congresswoman Amihilda Sangcopan briefed Society members on progress toward autonomy under the Bangsamoro Organic Law, conveying optimism with ongoing transitional arrangements.
The February 19 Board of Directors meeting reviewed 2018 programs and charted the way forward in 2019. Directors mourned the loss of the late honorary chair Wash SyCip, and noted the continuing robust support of honorary chair Hank Greenberg, who has provided a generous grant to the Punlaan School in Manila to assist women’s empowerment through vocational training and education.
Ambassador Romualdez provided essential support throughout the Society’s annual board program and hosted a welcome reception that brought together USPS directors with top Philippine government and private sector leaders. Highlighting the reception was the awarding of the Society’s 2019 Carlos P. Romulo Award to director Henry Howard for his role in the Balangiga Bells return and initiatives in the field of education that serve to strengthen Philippine-U.S. ties. Society co-chairs Pangilinan and Negroponte also presented a donation from a Filipino community association in Memphis to Defense Secretary Lorenzana to aid families of AFP soldiers.
A group of USPS members visited the parish of San Lorenzo de Martir in Balangiga, Eastern Samar on February 16 to pay respects in the spirit of reconciliation marking the Bells return.
Summing up the five-day program, Amb. Maisto said, “We have learned much during our visit and are well-equipped to structure 2019 program planning in a way that reflects modern Philippine realities, along with how best to meet the challenges and seize the opportunities ahead. Special thanks to our Philippines-based membership, led by Manny Pangilinan, and to ambassadors Babe Romualdez and Sung Y. Kim.”
The US-Philippines Society marks its seventh anniversary this year as the premier non-partisan organization focusing on Philippine-American ties. The board’s membership includes Special Envoy Jose E.B. Antonio, Secretary Roberto R. Romulo, and Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia, Jr., along with top private sector leaders. U.S. firms represented on the board include a mix of high tech businesses new to the market, SME’s, and blue chip companies with expansive ties to the Philippines. This year’s meeting included four ex-ambassadors to the Philippines, Richard Murphy, Frank Wisner, Thomas Hubbard, and John Negroponte.