Sep 212016

It would seem President Duterte has finally realized the importance of our relationship with the United States, judging from his most recent statement reiterating that he does not want American troops to get out of Mindanao. The President admitted, we need the United States as an important ally especially with regard to our problem with China over the disputed maritime territories in the South China Sea especially since “we do not have armaments” and “not enough firepower” – knowing fully well that war with China is definitely not an option either way.

Many “practical” and “patriotic” Filipinos heaved a sigh of relief with the development, saying we have to be pragmatic and set aside our so-called emotional, nationalistic feelings about our alliance with the United States. While it may be a good move to explore new ties with other countries like China or Russia and follow an independent foreign policy, we should not do so at the expense of old friends like the US. Our ties have been too deep that even our country’s educational system is patterned after the American model. We have a democratic style of government very similar to the United States, and foremost of which is that we have a very deep people-to-people connection as seen in the more than four million Filipinos living in the United States.

Our sources within the military expressed shock at the earlier pronouncements of the President when he said he wanted the Americans to leave Mindanao. In fact, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana openly admitted, “we still need” the Americans in Mindanao because “they have the surveillance capabilities that our armed forces don’t have.” As we have previously pointed out, American GPS technology was critical in pinpointing the location of the notorious Abu Sayyaf terrorist Ghalib Andang alias Commander Robot, and which led to his capture. Having been a military general, Lorenzana certainly recognizes the key support provided by US troops in counterterrorism operations in terms of intel sharing, training, and technical assistance.

Let’s face it, our close ties with America forged over seven decades of diplomatic relations has been very beneficial to the country. The US is the largest grant donor to this country with over $5 billion in aid provided in the last three decades through the USAID – and this does not even include the hundreds of millions donated by the US government for Super Typhoon Yolanda rehabilitation efforts. In terms of military assistance, the figure has reached $66 million in 2015 alone.

Foreign Secretary Jun Yasay’s comments that Filipinos are no longer the “little brown brothers” of America – referring to the words of then governor-general William Howard Taft – should be a non-issue. Such “paternalistic” sentiment as displayed by Taft is in the past (and where it should be confined in obsolescence) because relations between the two countries have reached a state where mutual respect is very much observed today.

Just how important the relationship with the US is in terms of our economy can also be gleaned from the movement in the stock market over the past five weeks (from mid-August to Sept. 16) with the PSE index consistently going on a downtrend – shaking investor confidence in the country.

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Hopefully, the government can work out the kinks that come with a “complex” relationship such as the one we have with the US and continue to work on mutual issues like terrorism or even the drug menace. The President should not allow himself to get all riled up when the US, the United Nations or even the European Union raise concerns on the issue of human rights. The US does that all the time to many other countries like Thailand, for instance, during the time of Thaksin Shinawatra when the Thai government also launched a war against illegal drugs. As for the UN – it’s part of their mandate to express concern over controversial issues that impact on the rights of people worldwide.

‘Political will needed to solve transportation problems’

The Manila Overseas Press Club’s Transportation forum with Secretary Art Tugade as guest speaker was a huge success with the Big Room of the Manila Golf and Country Club filled with guests – which only goes to show that people are really interested in the issue of congestion and traffic. A lot of people sent me text messages and emails saying they were impressed by the DOTr Secretary’s wit and straightforwardness during the forum

Saying the solutions cannot be handled by one man or one group alone but must be addressed by “the totality and with commonality from the community,” Tugade said that one reason why the past administration failed to deliver to the satisfaction of the public is that it lacked “political will.”

One needs a stick to wield political will, and that can be done through the granting of emergency powers that will help put an end to the practice in the past of using (and abusing) technicalities – such as the issuance of injunctions and temporary restraining orders mostly due to cases filed by losing bidders – to delay the implementation of critical projects, Tugade noted.

He gave his assurance the emergency powers would not be abused because the DOTr would practice transparency and accountability, and would also be compliant with “Freedom of Information.” Besides which, the emergency powers would be limited to two years and would still be subject to oversight from both houses of Congress, he said.

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