US Philippines Society

  Raising Awareness of Today's Philippines in the US

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US-Philippines Society 

The US-Philippines Society held  a highly successful business mission to the Philippines,  February 16-20, that included  a two-hour meeting with President Rodrigo R. Duterte. The president welcomed members of the Society's bi-national board, led by Co-chair Manuel V. Pangilinan and Society President Ambassador John F. Maisto, 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. 

On business, the president affirmed his commitment to meeting the Philippines' infrastructure needs through the signature Build Build Build initiative aimed at job creation for the Filipino people and improved connectivity of roads, railways, airports and seaports. 

The Society conveyed support for enhanced bilateral trade arrangements, including a proposed Free Trade Agreement, and assured the president that American business is eager to participate in new partnership opportunities, especially in the infrastructure, energy,  and ICT sectors under the US government's Better Utilization of Investments Leading to Development (BUILD) Act. 

2019 Courtesy Call
President Rodrigo Duterte welcomes US-Philippines Society President Ambassador John F. Maisto and Co-chair Manuel V. Pangilinan. Philippine Ambassador Jose Manuel Romualdez and US Ambassador Sung Y. Kim participated in the discussions during the courtesy call.  February 20, 2019, Malacanan Palace, Manila

Foreign Policy Updates

The USPHS Board welcomed insights into the administration's foreign policy agenda as outlined by Acting Secretary of Foreign Affairs Enrique A. Manalo during a foreign policy briefing, February 18. The Secretary cited two guiding factors: Philippine development under the "Ambisyon 2024" and pursuit of an independent foreign policy. The administration has taken steps to promote relations with traditional allies and other countries for a stable environment that fosters economic growth. Secretary Manalo said the U.S. is recognized as the only and oldest treaty ally of the Philippines under a 1951 mutual defense treaty.  As allies, both nations engage in programs to strengthen capability and interoperability between AFP and US forces especially in addressing terrorism, illicit drugs, cybersecurity, humanitarian and disaster relief.

Former US Ambassador to the Philippines and USPHS founding director Thomas Hubbard gave a historical perspective of US-PH security relations, noting that the participation of four former US Ambassadors to Philippines  in the USPHS board meeting program reflects continuity and change in the enduring bilateral relationship.  Ambassador Richard Murphy (1 978 to 1981);  Ambassador Frank Wisner (1991-1992);  USPHS Co-chair Ambassador John D. Negroponte (1993-1996); and, Ambassador T homas Hubbard (1996-2000). Current American Ambassador Sung Y. Kim expressed the unique quality of US-Philippine friendship, saying "almost every Filipino I have met has ties to the United States through personal experience, relatives and friends." 

On February 28,  Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited the Philippines, where he noted "a more vibrant chapter" in bilateral relations following the historic return of the Balangiga Bells. Both parties reaffirmed the deep and longstanding U.S.-Philippines alliance and discussed ways to improve cooperation on regional security and counter-terrorism. Citing Article 4 of the Defense Treaty, Secretary Pompeo made clear that "as the South China Sea is part of the Pacific, any armed attack on Philippine forces, aircraft, or public vessels in the South China Sea will trigger mutual defense obligations."

Board Meeting
Foreign Policy Briefing with Acting Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo and former US Ambassador to the Philippines Thomas Hubbard, February 18, Manila.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo paid a courtesy call on President Duterte. He is joined by US Ambassador Sung Kim and DAS Patrick Murphy, Feburary 28, Villamor Airbase, Manila
US-Philippines Society Directors (l-r) President Amb John F. Maisto, Ambassador Jose Manuel G. Romualdez, Co-chair Manuel V. Pangilinan, Co-chair Amb John D. Negroponte, Ambassador Sung Y. Kim, Ambassador Thomas C. Hubbard, Ambassador Richard Murphy and Ambassador Frank G. Wisner, USPHS Society Board Meeting, February 18, 2019, Manila.

On February 18-19, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary  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 U.S. 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. Ambassador 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. USPHS co-chairs Manuel V. Pangilinan and John D. Negroponte provided the forum with complementary Philippine and American perspectives, noting the need to take advantage of new opportunities to forge modern business partnerships.
Annual Board Meeting 2019
Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia  
Policy Reforms to Attract Investors

Socio-economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia cited policy reforms including Ease of Doing Business Act, trimming the foreign investment negative list and the Amendment in the Public Services Act  that opens public services to foreign investors.

The country's infrastructure program BUILD BUILD BUILD has  thousands of projects in the pipeline, an  area open to foreign investors. Its ambitious agenda is designed to fill gaps in roads, rails and ports connectivity.
Board Meeting
DTI Assistant Secretary Allan B. Gepty 
A Need for Enhanced Trade Platform

Trade Assistant Secretary Allan B. Gepty underscored milestones achieved under the US-PH Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), established in 2002 as a platform for consultative meetings providing a forum to address specific issues and other concerns of interest to both countries resulting in: (1) removal of the Philippines from the USTR Special 301 Watch List (2) PH passing into law the Strategic Trade Management Act (STMA) and (3) Formal Closure of PH Country Review on GSP Labor Issues
Board Meeting
Senior Commercial Counselor Diane Jones  
Key US-PH Trade Promotion Sectors

The US Embassy's Commercial Service in Manila is staffed with trade specialists who facilitate business opportunities through match making, business briefing, trade events and market access studies. Senior Commercial Officer Diane Jones identified local initiatives in setting ground work in areas of the IT sector, grant funding for private development, technical assistance for national infrastructure projects, funding development plans for smart cities project. Looking forward, the economic pillar of Indo-Pacific lies in digital economy.  
Ambassador Frank G. Wisner 
A View from Washington 

Former Ambassador Frank Wisner offered his perspective on US-PH relations in the context of p rofound structural shifts in the world and throughout the Indo-Pacific. He also cited areas where the U.S. enjoys a competitive edge, including its university system underpinned by the principles of a liberal education - humanities and critical thinking, equipping students with the ability to manage complexities in world politics and challenges in rapidly changing technologies. 

Co-chairs Manuel V. Pangilinan & Ambassador John D. Negroponte
Support for a Free Trade Agreement

Co-chairs Manuel V. Pangilinan and Ambassador John Negroponte expressed support for continuing dialogue to explore a bilateral free trade agreement.  The Philippines currently continues to enjoy reduced to zero tariffs in select exports to the US through the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP). Transitioning from being a GSP beneficiary to FTA partner will open market access both ways especially in areas of IT infrastructure, ship repairs and energy. 
2019 Board Meeting
At the 2019 Board of Directors meeting led by co-chairs Manuel V. Pangilinan & Ambassador John D. Negroponte, a resolution was passed in support of continued efforts under the current TIFA framework, welcomes progress to strengthen trade through a comprehensive free trade agreement and the new US government trade initiatives to support American business through mechanisms such as the BUILD Act, Asia Edge and establishment of  US International Development Finance Corporation.

In a February 18 meeting with legislative leaders, including Senator Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel and Representatives Maximo Rodriguez and Jesus 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, an area of particular interest to the USPHS. Senator Pimentel reviewed progress on implementation of the president's campaign agenda as the Duterte administration approaches mid-term. He noted improvements in  law and order, security, base pay of police and military, free tuition, farmers' irrigation, and elimination of red tape and lowered personal income taxes. During the second half of his term, the President and his legislative allies will advance the benefits of mass transportation and for the long term, a possible shift to  federalism.

Representative Rodriguez cited the landmark Bangsamoro Organic Law (RA 11054), passed in 2018 to promote peace, security, governance and development in Mindanao/Sulu. The law sought to address the grievances, sentiments and demands of Muslim Filipinos in the region.

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 US companies in meeting the country's energy needs and technology requirements. He also noted the importance of accelerated US-origin remittances and American investments in the BPO industry.  

Board Meeting
Legislative Briefing by (l-r) Senator Koko Pimentel, Representatives Maximo Rodriguez and Jesus Manalo, February 18, 2019, Manila.
Board Meeting
Chair of Economic and Energy Committees Senator Sherwin Gatchalian (right), February 19, 2019, Manila.
MARAWI UPDATE:  US-Philippines Society Livelihood, Education and Health Programs for Displaced Communities

Following the 2019 Annual Board of Directors Meeting in Manila, the US-Philippines Society delegation led by President Ambassador John F. Maisto and Director Henry B. Howard visited project sites in Marawi City on February 21. At the Lanao del Sur Provincial Capitol, TFBM Field Manager and Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) Assistant Secretary Felix Castro Jr. provided updates on the progress and challenges in the rehabilitation of the affected areas in the aftermath of the five-month siege by militant groups in 2017. 

Turnover of Medical Equipment and Supplies and Training Award for Medical Professionals and Volunteers under the "Children of Marawi" Project, Makati Medical Foundation Center Rural Health Center, Barangay Sagonsongan, Marawi, February 21, 2019

Marawi Forum
PDRF President Rene Meily
Marawi Forum
Representative Amihilda Sangcopan
Marawi Forum
Alpha Technology VP Paul Shmotolokha

President of the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation (PDRF) Rene Meily offered an update on health and childhood education projects launched by the USPHS to assist evacuees from the Marawi siege. PDRF is headed by Society co-chair M.V. 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.
Support for AFP Soldiers KIA in Combat Operations 

Transnational Threat expert Thomas Sanderson provided a briefing for the USPHS board with an overview of global hotspots. His focus on changes in the geostrategic picture, particularly on cyber, trade and terrorism, can serve to guide business decisions by revealing the texture, connectivity and implications of challenges confronting various regions, including Southeast Asia. 
In the Philippines, the ISIS group claimed responsibility for recent fatal Church bombings in Jolo a week after a plebiscite to create BARMM was approved by voters in Mindanao. Most fatalities were civilians; AFP soldiers died on the second blast when they responded.

With the support, thoughts and prayers of Filipino Americans of Memphis (FilAMemphis Inc), the US-Philippines Society conveyed gratitude to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana for his leadership and  presented a check for  the families of Filipino soldiers who died in combat operations in the South.
Global Disruptive Forces
Thomas Sanderson briefing on Global Disruptive Forces, February 19, 2019, Manila.

Welcome Reception Annual Board meeting 2019
Turnover of a check for the families of AFP Soldiers who died fighting terrorism in Mindanao held during the reception hosted by Ambassador Jose Manuel G. Romualdez, Manila, February 17, 2019. 
Significance of Return of the Balangiga Bells

At a Jan 22 forum in Washington DC, US and Philippine officials, and USPHS members gave a historical account and shared personal perspectives leading up to the December 2018 return of the three bronze bells taken from a church in Balangiga, Eastern Samar in 1901 during the Philippine American war.  Read More

On February 16, 2019, US-Philippines Society delegation followed up by  visiting the parish of San Lorenzo de Martir in Balangiga, Eastern Samar to pay respects in the spirit of reconciliation marking the Bells return.

On Feburary 17, 2019, during a reception hosted by Philippine Ambassador Jose Manuel Romualdez, Director Henry B. Howard was recognized with the 2019 Carlos P Romulo Award for his invaluable support and leadership that led to the return of the Balangiga Bells, as well as his scholarship program for needy students in Mindanao/Sulu. In accepting the award, Mr. Howard t hanked  President Duterte for elevating the bells issue as a national priority. He also recognized Ambassador Roberto Romulo,  the co-chairs and all members of the "Bells" team including Ambassador Raul Rabe, US veterans groups, US government represented by Ambassador Sung Kim, the Philippine government represented by Secretary Carlos Dominguez, Defense Secretaries Delfin Lorenzana and James Mattis, Ambassador Jose E.B. Antonio and Ambassador Jose Manuel Romualdez.

Balangiga Bells
L-R: Executive Director Hank Hendrickson (moderator), Hon Consul Henry B. Howard, Ambassador Jose Manuel G. Romualdez, DAS Dr. Joseph Felter and RADM Daniel McKinnon. Photo credit: Philippine Embassy
Balangiga Bells
The Balangiga Bells in the Parish Church of San Lorenzo de Martir, Samar, February 16, 2019

US-Philippines Society delegation including Ambassador Anne Derse, and Directors Roberto Llames and Lucie Du engaged local residents of Balangiga during a Feburary 16, 2019 visit. Photo credit: Roberto Llames 
USPHS Director Henry B. Howard accepts the 2019 Carlos P Romulo award in recognition of his invaluable support and leadership for the return of the Balangiga Bells, assistance through scholarships for underserved students, and fostering understanding between two peoples and strengthening bonds between two countries. L-R: Ambassador Roberto R. Romulo, Co-chair Ambassador John D. Negroponte, Henry B. Howard, Executive Director Hank Hendrickson, Co-chair Manuel V. Pangilinan and Philippine Ambassador Jose Manuel Romualdez who hosted a welcome reception in honor of the USPHS delegation, February 17, 2019, Manila

From Maritime Disputes with China to Mid-Term Elections

At a January 18 presentation "New Year Outlook for the Philippines: From Maritime Disputes with China to Mid-Term Elections," respected Philippine journalist Marites D. Vitug discussed her new book titled "Rock Solid: How the Philippines Won Its Maritime Case against China" (Ateneo Press, 2018) and foreign policy implications in Southeast Asia and Pacific region. She offered valuable insights into a complex legal international case based on interviews with President Aquino and key officials, delving into the rationale of President Aquino's decision to file a court case in 2013 in response to China's aggressive claims and actions in the South China Sea. She obtained widely available transcripts including intelligence reports by the Philippine Navy.

Ms. Vitug outlined the findings of the Hague Tribunal award that gave the Philippines a clear victory. She cited the court's findings that (1) China's Nine-Dash line based on historical claim has no basis; (2) China violated PH sovereignty in EEZ; (3) China's island building damaged vital marine environment, and (4) China did not prevent Chinese fishermen from encroaching on Philippine EEZ.

Ms. Vitug also shared her views on the 2019 political prospects for the Philippines, Philippine war on illegal drugs, US-Philippines relations, foreign policy shift inclusive of non-traditional allies, China and Russia. She noted positive developments for PH-US relations following the return of the Balangiga Bells to the Philippines in December 2018 and US military assistance during the militant groups' 2017 siege in Marawi. In the coming months, US-Philippines Joint military exercises will continue with increased Balikatan ("Shoulder to Shoulder") training exercises aimed to foster operational planning between the two nations in response to contingencies, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief operations and counterterrorism efforts. Recent survey shows that the U.S. is the most trusted nation by Filipinos.

During the May mid-term elections, the Filipino electorate will cast their votes for 12 senators and 297 members of Congress. Domestic issues prevail over international affairs in this campaign. As a result, in her opinion, the opposition party faces an uphill battle at a time when President Duterte's standing among voters remains very high. The event was jointly sponsored by the US-Philippines Society, Georgetown University's MSFS and the Asian Studies Program.

Marites Vitug
(L-R) Executive Director Hank Hendrickson, Professor Erwin Tiongson, Professor Yuhki Tajima (moderator), Marites D. Vitug, and Ambassador Thomas C. Hubbard, January 18, Georgetown University, Washington DC


On March 6, the US-PH Society in collaboration with the World Faiths Development Dialogue (WFDD) of Georgetown University's Berkley Center held a roundtable with Philippine women visitors focusing on crafting peace building priorities and action plans that foster healthy communities.  The women's group representing private and public sectors and civil society has developed programs that provide humanitarian assistance for women and children victims of human trafficking in areas affected by disasters, raised awareness of the new anti-bullying law and mental health priorities, conducted training for effective parenting skills,  youth wellness and co-existence under different religious beliefs. T he forum provided an opportunity for the participants to connect with other women's international advocacy groups. 

World Faiths Development Dialogue Philippine Women Visitors
(L-R) Dr. Marylendra Penetrante (Children and Youth Wellness), Zhanaynah Karim Sabarat (ALIVE), USPHS Executive Director Hank Hendrickson, Lauren Herzog (WFDD), Wilma Mui (WFDD), Clydie Pasia (Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, Asia Pacific), May Negrillo-Quesad (Maguindanao LGU), and Deacon Anne E. Derse


The Foundation for Professional Training, Inc. (FPTI) embarked on an expansion program, the New Punlaan School Building project, that began in 2018, to provide free-tuition vocational education and training to underserved women from poor families by increasing enrollment by three-fold to 500. Founded in the 1970's by dedicated women, the school's vision is to train and educate underprivileged young women for employment, as well as in their varied roles in family life and nation-building, and enable them to achieve a higher quality of life and human dignity by equipping them with tools to break the cycle of poverty.

The new facilities will include a modern library funded by t he generosity of Honorary Chair Maurice Greenberg and the Starr Foundation through  the  US-Philippines Society . Fundraising efforts are spearheaded by Mrs. Vicky Cuisia and the dedicated boardmembers of FPTI. 

During a March 12 visit to the Punlaan School by USPHS President Ambassador John F. Maisto, several students related how the school's teachings on values and formal curriculum, as well as enhanced job prospects, are transforming their lives.  

Punlaan School
Front row: Maria Consuelo Maisto, Ambassador John F. Maisto, School Administrator Anna Marie Jacinto. They are joined by Mrs. Vicky Cuisia (third from left,back row) board members Elvie Verano and Doris Bautista (center, back row). 
Punlaan School
Enthusiastic and grateful, the young women students retell stories of transformative lessons learned in the classrooms and on the job at the Punlaan School, March 12, 2019, Manila