As my time in the Philippines draws to a close, I consider with hope the future of our bilateral relationship. I smile as I remember how quickly Manila came to feel like home, thanks to the hospitality and Bayanihan spirit of the Filipino people. Above all, I reflect on the deeply moving moments I have been privileged to share, from meeting Filipino heroes at the Day of Valor in Bataan, to honoring World War II veterans with U.S. Congressional Gold Medals, to the extraordinary efforts of today’s frontliners battling the COVID-19 pandemic.
The United States will continue to do all in our power to help the Philippines prevail in its fight against COVID-19, through vaccine donations, medical equipment, and public health assistance. To date, the U.S. has donated over 13 million vaccine doses to the Philippines through COVAX. Millions more will come; the Philippines will receive 44 million vaccine doses from COVAX. I am heartened by each delivery of these life-saving vaccines, which are saving lives and bolstering confidence that together, we will overcome this terrible pandemic. Our support goes beyond vaccines to include over Php1.38 billion in assistance, including ventilators, ICU beds, personal protective equipment, and training.
Historically, our security alliance has been the backbone of U.S.-Philippine relations. We deeply appreciate President Duterte’s decision in July to restore the Visiting Forces Agreement, key to the operational effectiveness of our Mutual Defense Treaty – whose 70th anniversary we commemorate this year. We believe our alliance strengthens both countries’ operational readiness, deters conflict, and defends a peaceful, stable, rules-based order throughout the region. The recent visits by our Defense Secretary and the Commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command highlight our unwavering commitment to our oldest treaty ally in the region.
September marks Maritime Archipelagic and Nation Awareness Month – a timely reminder that a strong maritime presence includes much more than traditional security. During the past three years, our cooperation has promoted the economic and environmental sustainability of the West Philippine Sea, whose resources are critical to Filipino livelihoods and to the nation’s prosperity. USAID’s Fish Right Program has advanced best-practice fishery and maritime resource management and curtailed illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing in Philippine waters. Together we are supporting innovative approaches to reduce ocean pollution; protect sensitive marine environmental areas; and strengthen international maritime scientific research. It is so inspiring to see the creative ideas pursued by the next generation of Filipino leaders, such as the team from Agusan del Norte that won the Department of State’s 2021 regional Haquathon competition.
I am confident that our security alliance and our cooperative partnership will continue to thrive in the years to come, and that our countries will grow ever more secure and prosperous. My optimism is rooted in something far more profound and lasting than our shared political and economic interests; it springs from the hearts of our two peoples. We are more than allies: we are friends and family. The ties between Americans and Filipinos stretch back over a century, refreshed each day by the close bonds among millions of our countrymen. My wife and I feel so very fortunate to have experienced that warmth and that friendship with so many Filipinos we have met throughout this beautiful country. Though we could stay only a few years, we are so happy we could call this land our home, if only for a while. These friendships and memories we will take with us, and cherish always.
It has been an immense privilege to serve in the Philippines these past three years, and I leave deeply grateful to the Filipino people for their kindness and friendship. Salamat, hanggang sa muli!