From Resilience to Recovery
By U.S. Embassy Chargé d’Affaires John Law
During his 1946 inaugural address, President Manual Roxas told a newly independent Philippines and the world, “We have yet a greater bulwark today…the friendship and devotion of America.” For three quarters of a century, Americans and Filipinos have met and overcome adversity together. As 2020 closes, I am deeply proud of how our people united to face hardships: the Taal volcanic eruption, devastating typhoons, and the ongoing pandemic. Amid unprecedented challenges, our mutual support and collaboration demonstrate that this “friendship and devotion” endure and thrive today.
The pandemic has disrupted all aspects of our lives, in the workplace, the classroom, and at home. Despite economic hardship, family separations and loved ones’ illnesses, the outpouring of acts of goodwill and solidarity by Filipinos provides hope and inspiration to us all. Americans have worked shoulder-to-shoulder to help those in need, providing over Php1.1 billion in vital assistance – more than to any country in Southeast Asia. U.S. tech companies trained Filipino teachers to develop remote learning programs, helped the Department of Health distribute vital safety information, and provided online classroom software. The Embassy partnered with the Commission on Higher Education and the Department of Education to assist teachers and students. This assistance complements long-term U.S. investments in the Philippine health system totaling nearly Php28 billion over the past 20 years.
President Roxas called the abiding U.S.-Philippine friendship “the greatest ornament of our independence.” The four million-strong Fil-Am community in the United States is assisting in both countries. Here, they are donating food, medical, and other relief across the country. In the United States, Fil-Am-owned restaurants in San Francisco provided thousands of meals to healthcare workers through #FilipinosFeedTheFrontlines, while Fil-Am fashion designers produced and donated masks to hospitals, elder care facilities, and essential workers.
America is committed to the safety and security of the Philippines. As treaty allies, we strengthened our partnership this year to support the Philippines’ military modernization to defend the nation from emerging challenges. Top U.S. officials have repeatedly underscored our support, even in difficult times. Just in the past few weeks, the U.S. has delivered Php3.1 billion in vital defense equipment – on top of the Php31.2 billion provided over the past five years – to help the Philippines defend its territorial waters and maritime resources and counter foreign-linked terrorist threats.
America’s friendship is not empty rhetoric, and it is not subject to the vagaries of politics. As Secretary Pompeo declared, “We have your back.” We are and will remain your friend, ally, and partner — through fair weather or foul.
Part of that commitment is upholding international law in the West Philippines Sea, and standing up for your rights to the rich maritime resources that rightly belong to you. In July, the U.S. reiterated its unequivocal support for the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal ruling that validated the Philippines’ rights to its waters in the West Philippines Sea. The U.S. rejects Beijing’s “Nine-Dash Line” — which falsely claims that nearly all the South China Sea belongs to it — as completely unlawful. We agree with the Tribunal that the PRC has no right to claim Mischief Reef (seized from the Philippines in 1995 and now home to a PRC military base) or Second Thomas Shoal (bravely defended by Philippine Marines). We fully agree with President Duterte’s statement at the United Nations in September, that the 2016 arbitral ruling is “beyond compromise.” U.S. support for the Philippines on this issue is resolute and is backed across the U.S. political spectrum.
2020 has tested our resilience, but I am confident 2021 will be a year of recovery, as medical advancements enable us to better contain and treat the virus, and our economies reopen to support growth and development. 2021 brims with hope for the future of our relationship, as we celebrate several important milestones: 75 years of U.S.-Philippine bilateral relations, the 75th anniversary of the Fulbright exchange program, and the 60th anniversary of the U.S. Peace Corps in the Philippines. What we can accomplish going forward is thanks to the friendship and devotion of many people over the years, including the brave frontliners who served as a bulwark against the pandemic. On behalf of the entire U.S. Embassy, we thank you for your friendship, and send best wishes to all of our Filipino friends for the new year. Para sa isang masaganang bagong taon!