How are PH-U.S. ties under Duterte? ‘Terrific,’ says envoy

Carmela Fonbuena

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How are PH-U.S. ties under Duterte? ‘Terrific,’ says envoy
'This is really a strong partnership. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship for both countries,' says US ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim after turning over 6 ScanEagle reconnaissance drones to the Philippine Air Force

MANILA, Philippines – US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim on Tuesday, March 13, expressed confidence in the alliance of the United States with the Philippines even as the latter continues to forge closer ties with China. (READ: Carpio to Duterte, Cayetano: Protest China ‘invasion’)

“I think it’s terrific. I’ve been here about a year and 3 months now. I have enjoyed it tremendously. It’s a very busy place. I’ve learned during the past year and 3 months that this is really a strong partnership,” Kim said when asked about the state of the US’ relationship with its oldest treaty ally in Asia. 

“It’s a mutually beneficial relationship for both countries. America gains from being friends with the Philippines. I believe the Philippines also gains from being partners and allies with the US. I feel very confident  about the state of our relationship and I believe that going forward, there are great opportunities for us to strengthen our relationship in a variety of ways,” Kim said. 

Kim assumed his post in the wake of threats from President Rodrigo Duterte that he will scrap the 6-decade-old Mutual Defense Treaty with the US, and verbal attacks against then US President Barack Obama and Kim’s predecessor, former Ambassador Philip Goldberg. 

Duterte’s declared preference for China is a policy pivot from the former administration, which considered the neighboring superpower as the country’s biggest security threat for violating Philippine sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea. (READ: Duterte: West PH Sea joint exploration with China like ‘co-ownership’)

Duterte hit it off with US President Donald Trump who, unlike Obama, has been silent on his drug war. The Philippine leader also took a friendlier stance towards Kim, in contrast to his treatment of Goldberg, whom he had berated in several public addresses for speaking up about his drug war. (READ: Duterte’s pivot to China won’t be easy for Americanized PH military)

Strong military ties

On Monday, Kim led the turn over of 6 ScanEagle reconnaissance drones to the Philippine Air Force (PAF), a $13.76-million (about P700 million*) grant that shows the strong defense cooperation of the two countries. 

These reconnaissance drones are widely used in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) in the Middle East to identify and locate targets. 

“The ScanEagle will significantly improve the AFP’s ability to detect terrorist activities, piracy activities, territory encroachments, so on all fronts, maritime domain security, counter-terrorism, HADR assets like these will be very, very useful,” said Kim.

Philippine Air Force spokesperson Major Aristides Galang said they may also be useful in limited maritime patrol. He focused on its capability to assess the extent of damage after disasters and calamities, and to locate victims and survivors. 

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who was present at the turnover ceremony, also celebrated ties with the US. 

This collaboration is also an indication of the Philippines’ and the United States’ goodwill, deep friendship, and genuine commitment to peace. On behalf of the Republic of the Philippines, we profoundly desire to maintain our strong connection and camaraderie with the US, as well as to expand common interests and handle differences with understanding and respect,” Lorenzana said. 

Kim cited “solid” ties in other areas of the bilateral relationship as well.

“The economic relationship between our two counties is also very, very strong. We have culture, sports, academic ties that are also very solid. I’m quite optimistic and confident about prospects of our relationship,” Kim said. –

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