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New envoy links drug drive to economic gains

WASHINGTON, D.C. The country’s new envoy, Amb. Jose Manuel G. Romualdez buckled down to work, briefing stakeholders, policy-makers, executives and community leaders about gains and prospects for the Philippines and its strategic partnership with the United States.

Philippine Amb. Jose Manuel Romualdez with Honorary Consul Henry B. Howard of Florida and Adm. Dan McKinnon (Ret.) attended the year-end briefing at the Philippine Embassy. Photo by Bing Cardenas Branigin.

“It is said that security and economic development are two sides of the same coin. Our partnership with the US on political and security issues are just as robust as the economic relationship,” he emphasized at a briefing at the Philippine Embassy last Dec. 18.

Ties between the two longtime Pacific allies underwent a re-start following the visit to Manila and meetings between Pres. Donald Trump and Pres. Rodrigo Duterte in November. The usual cordial relations took a hit after Mr. Duterte reacted angrily to criticism from then Pres. Barack Obama over the mounting death toll from the anti-drug campaign. The Philippine leader made the war on drugs his top priority after taking over in June 2016. An estimated 7,000 people have reportedly been killed in the crackdown.

But Mr. Trump has largely ignored human rights issues in China, the Philippines and other countries for the sake of fostering closer ties with their leaders. According to a CBS News report, Amb. Romualdez linked the anti-drug campaign with sustained economic gains.

“Our economy is doing well because our people, the Philippine people, is much more confident in their country today. I think more than in the past years,” he argued.

But in his year-end report, Amb. Romualdez who formally took over the long-vacant DC post only in late November, decided to focus squarely on the Philippine economy and bilateral ties with the US.

“The economy’s growth rate can be attributed to a number of factors. Strong growth in exports, improvements in public spending, and boosted performance in traditionally well-performing areas such as the manufacturing subsector and services sector has helped drive economic expansion,” he declared.

He pointed to preliminary consultations for a possible Free Trade Agreement between the Philippines and the US. In 2016, the US was the Philippines’ third largest trading partner and 2nd biggest market for Philippine exports.

He also noted that the Philippine economy grew by over six percent for the past nine quarters.

Amb. Romualdez, who friends call by his nickname “Babes”, has had extensive experience in business and the media. He used to be chief executive of one the Philippines’ largest newspaper and was president of the Manila Overseas Press Club and vice-president of Rotary Club of Manila. He continues to write a column for the Philippine Star.

He highlighted the 18-month-old Duterte administration’s “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure and investment program that’s reputedly one of the boldest and most ambitious infrastructure programs in history.

“The Administration’s goal is to invest over US$170 billion in six years. By 2022, the government is expected to spend nearly US$38 billion, or 7.4% of GDP, on infrastructure alone,” he explained.

“Our economic managers emphasize the multiplier and expansionary effects that investment in infrastructure and construction. The goal of the administration is to continue stimulating investment in the modernization of urban areas in Manila, while incentivizing greater investment in the rural areas,” he added.

Also cited were the Philippine Government’s comprehensive tax program, improved credit ratings, reforms aimed at increasing ease of doing business, partnerships with diverse development partners, and sustained government focus on poverty alleviation and delivery of social services.

He also briefed the audience on the achievements of the Philippines’ Chairmanship of the 50th Anniversary of ASEAN, with an emphasis on the importance of a peaceful and stable Southeast Asia to the economies in the region and of the US.

Apart from economic issues, Ambassador Romualdez delved into the bilateral and strategic cooperation between the Philippines and the US. He identified counterterrorism and counter-narcotics as the primary focus of bilateral cooperation in 2018, emphasizing that it is to the interest of both the Philippines and the United States to eliminate the threats posed by terrorism and the illegal drugs trade.

Speaking on people-to-people ties between the Philippines and the US, Amb. Romualdez called on the members of the Filipino diaspora to make their own contributions to effect positive change. He also announced the Embassy’s plans to strengthen its science diplomacy program and the scheduled inauguration of “Sentro Rizal Washington DC” or the Philippine Cultural Center, in the first quarter of 2018.

The briefing was jointly organized by the Embassy and the US-Philippines Society. Hank Hendrickson, Executive Director of the US-Philippines Society, moderated a brief Q&A after the presentation.


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