MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines and United States were poised to deepen economic and security ties after United States Vice President Kamala Harris launched at least 17 new initiatives between the two allies during her first trip to the Southeast Asian country.
“Now and always, the US commitment to the defense of the Philippines is ironclad, and we are committed to strengthening our economic and investment relationship,” said a readout from Harris’ office.
Agreements unveiled by Harris during her trip include the establishment of new forums on energy and food security, planned investments in 5G networks, as well as the upskilling of Filipino workers to participate in high-tech manufacturing.
On the security front, a senior administration official said additional funding would be channeled toward the two countries’ Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, a military deal that allows the US military to construct facilities and preposition defense assets inside Philippine military bases.
Fresh funds would come on top of the over $82 million that has already been allocated for the agreement and would be used toward the completion of 21 projects.
New locations under the deal have also been identified, although the official declined to give further details.
Here is a list of initiatives launched during Harris’ visit to the Philippines:
Climate action, energy security, sustainable infrastructure
Energy policy dialogue
- The Philippine Department of Energy, US Department of Energy, and US Department of State will establish a new high-level energy policy dialogue aimed at developing new forms of energy cooperation. This includes potential projects on short and long-term energy planning, offshore wind development, and grid stability and power transmission.
Negotiations for civil nuclear energy cooperation
- Opening negotiations on a civil nuclear cooperation agreement which will support nonproliferation priorities and zero-emission energy security initiatives of the Philippines.
- When in force, the agreement will provide legal basis for the export of nuclear equipment to the Philippines.
- “The United States is committed to working with the Philippines to increase energy security and deploying advanced nuclear reactor technology as quickly as safety and security conditions permit to meet the Philippines’ dire baseload power needs,” said Harris’ office.
Critical mineral supply chains
- US support for the development of a nickel and cobalt processing facility in the Philippines. The facility is eyed to increase the production of refined nickel and cobalt in the Philippines by 20,000 metric tons per year. The minerals were among minerals essential for clean energy technology.
Construction of geothermal power in Mindanao
- In partnership with the the Energy Development Corporation (EDC), the US will develop a geothermal project in Mindanao aimed at increasing access to clean energy, bringing down energy costs, and reducing emission.
Building the Project Pipeline
- Opening of a US Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) office in the US Embassy Manila to help US companies and financiers seeking to invest in the Philippines.
- “This office will ensure that USTDA’s current pipeline of bankable projects reach financial close and that new project opportunities are identified in partnership with the Asian Development Bank, US development finance institutions, private banks, and other country partners in the region,” said the US.
Indo-Pacific smart and secure ports development
- US assistance to address cybersecurity risks in critical seaport infrastructure, including the possible use of “trusted vendors” in setting up and maintaining digital and automated infrastructure for ports.
Food security, sustainable agriculture
Food security dialogue
- The establishment of a new food security dialogue that would help facilitate the creation of “resilient food systems and discuss best practices for agricultural innovation and sustainability.”
Bolstering organic agriculture
- Grant of a $20 million loan from the US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) to Agri Exim Global Philippines, Inc. for the upscaling of to its processing facilities in the Philippines
Upskilling, digital economy
Expanding Access to Reliable and Secure 5G Networks
- Harris office said the US is eyeing a partnership with NOW Telecom for the deployment of 5G technologies in the Philippines
Launching Satellite Broadband Service
- USAID support for the launch of the first Low Earth Orbit Satellite Broadband Service in Southeast Asia, in partnership with SpaceX Starlink, in the Philippines.
Providing Digital Opportunities to Small Businesses
- Launch of a 5-year project aimed at growing the participation of small and medium enterprises in the Philippines’ e-commerce ecosystem.
Empowering a New Generation of Highly Skilled Workers
- USAID to support public-private partnerships aimed at creating a workforce to meet the requirements of the high-tech manufacturing sector
Investing in Women Entrepreneurs
- The US DFC to provide a $15.5 million loan through Citibank to support ASA Philippines Foundation, a microfinance institution focused on helping women entrepreneurs in the Philippines.
Human rights, health security
Support for the Philippines-UN Joint Programme for Human Rights
- Proposed US financial support for the Philippines-United Nations Joint Programme for Human Rights, an operational project of a 2020 Human Rights Council resolution to provide the Philippines with technical cooperation to solve human rights problems, including killings in the Duterte administration’s war on drugs.
Elevating the US-Philippines Health Security Partnership
- Subject to the availability of funds, a potential investment of $8 million for the strengthening of the Philippines’ health system.
Healthcare for Veterans
- Launch of a Filipino version of a portal created by the Biden administration to expand health care and benefits for veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxic substances.
Combating Trafficking in Persons
- Launch of a new program to combat the online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC) in the Philippines as well as provide support for OSEC survivors in the country.
On Tuesday, November 22, ahead of Harris’ visit to Palawan, the Vice President’s office announced additional initiatives focusing on maritime security.
Maritime Law Enforcement Assistance
- An additional $7.5 million in assistance will be given to strengthen capabilities of Philippine maritime law enforcement agencies “to counter illegal fishing, improve maritime domain awareness, and provide search and rescue support, including in the South China Sea.”
Supporting sustainable fishing in the South China Sea
- USAID will launch a new program with local communities in the western part of Philippines to “support traditional livelihoods and sustainable fishing practices, strengthen food security, and advance the conservation of marine ecosystems in the South China Sea that are vulnerable to development and climate change.”
- Part of the partnership is a grant to a local organization for conservation and climate change actions in the South China Sea, “including but not limited to building capacity in marine resource governance, conducting marine scientific research and disseminating findings, raising public awareness about the importance of the South China Sea, and supporting sustainable natural resource production by coastal communities and micro- and small enterprises.”
Philippine Coast Guard Vessel Traffic Management System
- Pending US Congressional notification, the USTDA will support the Philippine Coast Guard in upgrading and expanding its vessel traffic management system (VTMS) to enable improved maritime safety and environmental monitoring. The system will improve maritime security, search and rescue efforts, and environmental monitoring in Philippine waters.
- “As a nation comprised of over 7,000 islands and growing vessel traffic activity, the Philippines needs to expand its VTMS capabilities to cover major ports and navigation paths,” said the White House.
Increase in Visa Validity for C1/D Crew Visas
- Validity of C-1/D nonimmigrant visas for Philippine merchant and cruise ship crew personnel will be raised to 10 years.
- “By increasing the visa reciprocity, the United States will further facilitate the travel of Filipino seafarers to strengthen the global supply chain, support the US cruise industry, and continue providing an important source of income for Filipino workers,” Harris’ office said.
– with reports from Sofia Tomacruz/Rappler.com