Another top U.S. official visits Philippines

Paterno Esmaquel II
US Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield is set to offer help in promoting rule of law, his spokesman tells Rappler

TOP OFFICIAL. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield is set to tackle rule of law in the Philippines during a two-day trip. File photo courtesy of the US State Department

MANILA, Philippines – US Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield arrived in the Philippines for a two-day trip to offer help in Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs and other law enforcement matters. 

Brownfield arrived in the Philippines shortly before midnight on Tuesday, November 15, his spokesman told Rappler.

Brownfield is the 4th high-ranking Washington official to visit the Philippines since the anti-US Duterte took office on June 30.

He is the assistant secretary for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs (INL) of the US State Department. 

He is married to former US ambassador to the Philippines Kristie Kenney, who is now counselor of the US State Department.

Mike Alpern, public affairs head of Brownfield’s bureau at the US State Department, said Brownfield is set to stay in the Philippines until the afternoon of Thursday, November 16.

Alpern told Rappler that Brownfield “will be meeting with senior leadership of the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Supreme Court (SC), and the Department of Health (DOH).”

Alpern said he cannot specify the people Brownfield will meet.

“The Assistant Secretary’s overall goal for this trip is to refocus State Department assistance to the Philippines on building just, fair institutions that advance rule of law,” Alpern said.

He added that Brownfield “will be looking to advance US support for accountable and effective justice sector institutions.” He said this support “includes programs to build the capacity of prosecutors, judges, and other justice sector actors in the Philippines.”

Expert vs illegal drug trade 

In a separate statement, the US State Department said Brownfield “will also discuss US support for maritime security and effective, humane drug treatment in the Philippines.”

Brownfield earlier approved a pledge of around P320 million ($6.7 million) to boost law enforcement in the Philippines.

Brownfield is one of the world’s leading experts in fighting the illegal drug trade.

After all, he once served as US ambassador to Colombia, which is known for a decades-long war on drugs. Before this, he was US ambassador to Venezuela and Chile.

In a phone interview with Rappler in September, Brownfield was asked about global best practices in fighting illegal drugs. Without referring to the Philippine case in particular, he explained that the drug problem, in general, “is a public health crisis as much as it is a law enforcement crisis.” 

On the drug crisis in his own country, Brownfield quoted former US drug czar Gil Kerlikowske as saying, “We cannot arrest our way out of this drug problem.”

Duterte’s anti-US rhetoric

Brownfield’s trip to the Philippines comes as Duterte moves away from Washington and closer to Beijing, America’s rival in the Asia Pacific. It also takes place in the context of Duterte’s war on drugs that has killed more than 4,800 people since July 1.

Less than a month before Brownfield arrived, US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel also visited the Philippines from October 22 to 25.

Russel, the US top diplomat for East Asia, met with Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr and Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana. 

In their meeting, Russel told Yasay that Duterte’s anti-US rhetoric “has created consternation” in a number of countries. 

He also cautioned the Philippines against choosing between the US and China.

From July 26 to 27, US Secretary of State John Kerry also visited the Philippines to meet with Duterte. 

Before Kerry arrived, Kenney also stayed in Manila from July 9 to 12 to meet with Duterte officials. – Rappler.com

Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.