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US sends Kristie Kenney to meet Duterte officials

MANILA, Philippines – Wearing her hat as counselor of the US State Department, former US ambassador to the Philippines Kristie Kenney flew to Manila for a 4-day trip to meet with representatives of President Rodrigo Duterte. 

Kenney is also meeting with civil society and members of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative during her visit from July 9 to 12.

The US State Department said Kenney "is the first high-level Washington official to meet with Duterte administration representatives since the June 30 inauguration of the new government."

Her visit comes not only days after the June 30 inauguration, but also before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands, announces a historic ruling on the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). (READ: CHEAT SHEET: What you need to know about PH-China case)

In an interview with Rappler on Monday, July 11, Kenney said US Secretary of State John Kerry asked her to fly to the Philippines to "start the conversation with the new Filipino government."

Her job description as counselor of the State Department, after all, requires her to provide "strategic guidance" to Kerry on foreign policy, undertake "efforts to enhance US diplomacy and public outreach," and conduct "special diplomatic assignments" as directed by the US Secretary of State.

Kenney's schedule in the Philippines includes meetings with Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr, and Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea.

Kenney to Philippines: 'We're friends'

Explaining the message she is bringing for the Philippines' new leadership, Kenney said: "It's an easy one: We're friends. We're ready to work together."

Kenney pointed out that the Philippines and the US have "a long partnership, a long friendship." 

She added that every time there is an election, it is crucial "to get to know the new officials and really start the partnership with some new faces."

Kenney recounted her dinner on Sunday, July 10, with Lorenzana and other defense officials. "It was fantastic. It was a relaxed dinner," she said. 

Kenney said they discussed the Duterte administration's priorities as well as possible points of cooperation between the Philippines and the US. 

"I'm here, frankly, as much to listen as to talk, you know, hear what a new team here is thinking," she said.

Kenney served as the first female US ambassador to the Philippines from 2006 to 2010. 

She was also US ambassador to Thailand from 2011 to 2014, and ambassador to Ecuador from 2002 to 2005.

Kenney "is a member of the Senior Foreign Service and holds Department's highest diplomatic rank of Career Ambassador," the US State Department said. – Rappler.com

Paterno R. 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.

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