By Jil Danielle M. Caro

US officials looking to ‘restore’ friendship bonds with PHL gov’t

Posted on August 04, 2017

UNITED STATES officials are looking to smoothen ties with the administration of President Rodrigo R. Duterte as they visit Manila this week for a series of meetings during the ASEAN Regional Forum to be attended by other high-level officials within the Asia Pacific region.

US State Secretary Rex W. Tillerson -- IR.USEMBASSY.GOV
“We’re really looking forward to the trip to Manila, and I think part of the reason why we’re looking forward to it -- not just the multilateral diplomacy, but there will be a chance for -- to have a very good, robust bilateral program with the Philippines while we’re there on the margins of the ministerial meetings,” said Susan A. Thornton, acting assistant secretary for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, during a press briefing at the White House on Wednesday, Aug. 2.

“We are looking forward to being able to furnish the relationship and restore those bonds of friendship,” said Ms. Thornton.

However, Ms. Thornton could not confirm just yet whether the US delegation, to be led by US State Secretary Rex W. Tillerson, would be meeting with Mr. Duterte.

“We’re still working out the last details of the schedule of that bilateral meeting so I can’t tell you exactly what the meeting schedule is, but we will certainly get those details as soon as we can have them,” she said.

Mr. Duterte, since his assumption into office, has launched a series of tirades against the US, the latest being during his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 24 where he demanded the US to return the Balangiga bells taken by American soldiers as spoils of war in the early 1900s.

The Philippine President previously made harsh pronouncements against former US President Barack H. Obama II, who expressed disapproval over Mr. Duterte’s controversial drug war. On the other hand, President Donald J. Trump has invited Mr. Duterte to the White House during a phone conversation earlier this year. American senators critical of the drug war have frowned on the invitation.

Ms. Thornton said among the priority issues for discussion is addressing terrorism.

“But I think you can be sure that we will be raising all of the relevant issues that we have in the bilateral alliance relationship with the Philippines. We have a lot of things to talk about, obviously. The Philippines is right now grappling with a very difficult situation down in the southern island of Mindanao with the ISIS takeover of one of the cities down there. And we are working together not just with the Philippines, but other countries in the region to try to address the growing concerns and growing threats, frankly, of international terrorism,” she said.

Other matters that will be brought up, she said, are governance, human rights issues, and how the US can increase “economic and other kinds of people-to-people engagement” with the country.

Moreover, Ms. Thornton assured that the issue on the disputed South China Sea will “be a focus of discussion.”

“The US will continue to press for language that makes it clear that we are dedicated to protecting and defending the freedom of navigation and overflight in South China Sea,” she said.

Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana, for his part, said via text message yesterday that he has no scheduled meeting with the US delegation.