Bernardo M. Villegas
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Rebalancing Strategy
published: Mar 31, 2017



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Strong Foundations of PH-US Relations (Part 1)

           The laudable efforts of the Duterte Administration to foster stronger relations (economic, political, social and cultural) with China should in no way diminish our resolve to continue building on the strong foundations built by former Administrations in PH-US relations.  Former President Fidel Ramos, who has recently publicly criticized PDu30’s anti-American tirades, incarnates the very healthy attitude of being friendly to all countries that can contribute positively to the objective of Philippines sustainable and inclusive development.  As a West Point graduate and subsequently President of the Philippine Republic, he did much in strengthening economic, political and military ties between the two countries.  At the same time, he is highly appreciated by the Chinese Government for leading the initiative to establish the Boao Forum which has put China in the forefront of world leadership.  The Boao forum that had its first meeting in the semi-tropical island of Hainan is a counterpart to the Davos Forum in Switzerland, which gathers heads of state, CEOs of the largest conglomerates all over the world and thought leaders annually to discuss issues of global importance.  The former President practices what he preaches:  be a friend of all nations with whom you can share some common causes.  One can be more friendly towards the Chinese without renouncing ties with the Americans.

          I am glad I obtained a copy of the report of former Philippine Ambassador to the U.S.  Jose L. Cuisia, Jr. on the key accomplishments of his tenure (April 2011 to June 2016).  The report contains the most recent efforts to cement PH-US relations on which the present Administration can build even stronger ties, without neglecting other equally important partners like China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, among others.  Modesty aside, I am glad I—together with some Filipino CEOs— played a role in the first area of economic diplomacy cited in the accomplishment report of Ambassador Cuisia. Through his indefatigable efforts, critical bilateral business and investment interests that existed between the Philippines and the United States were significantly advanced.  American corporate and government leaders have been linked up with their Philippine counterparts through the following:

          --Organizing flagship private sector-led investment road shows for five consecutive years (2011 -2015) which capitalized on the wave of optimism and confidence in the Philippines.  Through these annual events that brought the delegations to three major American cities every year, for a total of 12 cities over four years, many prominent Filipino business persons and leading Filipino minds were introduced to prospective American partners in promoting the Philippines’ enhanced business image in the U.S.

          --Assisting Philippine and American businesses who needed support in entering either the Philippine or American market or both.  Regular interactions with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and quarterly meetings with the US-ASEAN Business Council were two principal venues for emphasizing how open and competitive the Philippine economic and business environments had become.  The present Secretary of Finance Carlos Dominguez and his colleagues in the economic team of the Cabinet should find solace that they are not starting from scratch in their efforts to convince American investors that the economic fundamentals of the Philippines are on solid rock, despite all the political noise from the President and others in Team Philippines.

          --Traveling to 44 states of the Union, more than once to some of them, to broaden the awareness of American businesses and to be able to reach those who were not headquartered in major cities like New York, Chicago or San Francisco.  I would especially like to highlight the road shows we conducted in Houston, Dallas-Forth Worth, Seattle, Atlanta and Philadelphia where potential investors had less knowledge about what was happening in the Philippines and the rest of Asia than those in the main business centers of the U.S. like New York or San Francisco.  Even up to now, we are getting inquiries from these second-tier cities about prospects for joint ventures with Philippine corporations in infrastructure building, health care, BPO, tourism and agribusiness.

          --Arranging meetings of visiting officials such as the Secretary of Trade and Industry, Secretary of Finance or the Governor of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas with the U.S. business community.  These meetings were opportunities for the Philippines’ top economic managers to provide the most recent updates on the Philippines’ economic performance, as well as on game-changing legislation that the Aquino legislative agenda championed.  President Benigno S. Aquino III himself had the opportunity to personally interact with senior business leaders in New York (2012) and Chicago (2015).

          In short, the Duterte Administration can capitalize on the good will and enlightened information that had been communicated to both the public and private sectors of the United States during the term of the last Administration.    The target audience of the communication efforts led by former Ambassador Cuisia included high-level U.S. government officials, top corporate executives, ranking officials of Chambers of Commerce, influential academics and prominent Filipino-American community leaders.  This was accomplished through the organization of private sector-led road shows, the holding of business and investment forums and the conduct of Year-End Economic Briefings.   Much had been done to convince American investors and business leaders that the Philippines was an emerging Asian tiger.  With a minimum of effort to continue a dialogue with American audiences, key members of the Philippine cabinet should not find it difficult to convince them that nothing has changed fundamentally in the Philippine economy and that, on the contrary, the dynamic investment climate will become even more attractive with the implementation of the ten-point agenda of the Duterte Administration.  (To be continued).