MANILA, Philippines – The room erupted in laughter on Friday, September 8, as the Philippines’ top diplomat and the US ambassador exchanged a joke before dozens of officials and members of media.
It was the signing of the 5th amendment to the Philippine-US letter of agreement on narcotics control and law enforcement.
Both Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano and US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim led the event on Friday at the Carlos P. Garcia Conference Room at the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in Pasay City.
During this event, the US committed P102 million ($2 million) to support Philippine drug reduction programs, as Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte wages a war on drugs.
“We look forward to working with the Philippine government,” Kim said.
“I view this letter of agreement as just the start, and the Secretary was kind enough to give us two million thanks. I hope there will be many more million thanks coming forward,” the US ambassador said.
Smiling, Cayetano, who did not have a microphone, made a remark that was hardly audible except for the word “billion.”
“Okay, we should not be too ambitious,” Kim replied in jest, as the room broke into laughter as well.
Cayetano: Thank you, American people
It was a moment that spoke volumes about the warming of ties between Manila and Washington.
Duterte, after all, has blasted the US – particularly Kim’s predecessor, Philip Goldberg – for supposedly meddling in his bloody drug war. The Philippine leader has also said he wants to move away from the US and closer to China.
Korean-born Kim, whom Malacañang earlier hailed for his Asian heritage, however has enjoyed cordial ties with Cayetano and Duterte himself. Kim, too, has overseen huge US donations to the Philippines, including P730 million ($15 million) in aid for Marawi, which he announced earlier this week.
In his own remarks, Cayetano said on Friday, “I’d like to personally thank Ambassador Kim for his personal visit to Camp Bagong Diwa, where we house a rehab center, where he spoke to our very dedicated and diligent doctors, and in fact our doctors in the rehab said that finally, there are people, there are groups, there are administrations who are paying attention to rehabilitation.”
On the document signed on Friday, Cayetano also said, “We need to enhance cooperation to address not just the supply but also the demand side of the drug abuse problem.”
“I am pleased to sign the agreement on behalf of the Philippine government. Thank you very much again, Ambassador, to the American people, President Trump.” – Rappler.com
*$1 = 50.82