Bernardo M. Villegas
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Strong Foundations of PH-US Relations (Part 2)

           It would be foolhardy for the present Administration to undo a lot of the good accomplished by the last in enhancing the economic ties of the Philippines and the United States.  Some of the stand-alone initiatives promoted by former Ambassador to the U.S., Jose L. Cuisia, Jr. can make significant contributions to our development efforts today and in the near future.  Some of them are enumerated below:

          --Assisting the inter-agency effort to restore the Philippines’ Category 1 aviation safety rating through close coordination with the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines and the US Federal Aviation Administration.  This lay the foundation for the construction of more world-class international airports all over the Philippine Archipelago in line with the Private Public Partnership program of the Duterte Administration, in which more than half of those slated for implementation in 2017 have to do with airports.  Needless to say, these airport projects are in line with the ambitious program of the Department of Tourism to achieve a large increase in foreign tourism in the next six years.

          Working with various Philippine government agencies and the U.S. Government in achieving the formal and successful closure of the review case under the US Generalized System of Preferences regarding workers’ rights in the Philippines.  This accomplishment is very timely as the Philippines is once again attracting labor-intensive manufacturing operations that are migrating away from China to Southeast Asia since Chinese wages are no longer competitive with those of Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines.  The renaissance of manufacturing in the Philippines is a distinct possibility in the next six to ten years.

          --Actively coordinating with USAID on Philippine participation in the Partnership for Growth Initiative.  This resulted in development assistance given to the Philippines from 2011 to 2015 amounting to US$409.277 million.  The proposed allocation for the Philippine in 2016 is US$98.43 million.  This will increase the total development assistance to US$507.707 million.  Much of the aid coming from the U.S. is being concentrated in regions outside the National Capital Region, especially in such economic growth centers in Mindanao like Cagayan de Oro, General Santos City and Davao.  In fact, the President will be glad to know that USAID is helping us to decentralize economic power away from Manila.  It has helped leaders in the private and government sectors to identify other growth centers that will attract business away from Metro Manila.  Among them are Batangas City in Luzon, Iloilo City in the Visayas and Cagayan de Oro in Mindanao.  Our fixation on solving the traffic problem in Metro Manila should not blind us to the fact that the medium-term solution to this problem is the creation of other metropolitan areas to draw population out of the NCR which is just too overpopulated. 

          --Advocating for the removal of the Philippines from the Special 301 Watch List on Intellectual Property Rights. This is vital to the continuous expansion of the BPO-IT sector which is trending towards Knowledge Process Outsourcing as voice-oriented BPOs are threatened by automation and the increased tendency of the millennials to obtain their information exclusively from their smart phones and other non-voice sources. 

          In addition to these selected economic initiatives, there have been important achievements on the military and security alliance fronts:

          --Lobbied for the continuous increase in US Foreign Military Financing (FMF) for the Philippines.  FMF for the Philippines increased from US$11.97 million in 2011 to a record high of US$66 million in 2015.  Total FMF from 2011 to 2015 was US $180.453.  The proposed allocation for the Philippines in 2016 is US$40 million.  This will increase the total FMF to US $220 million.  The total FMF from 2001 to 2010 was US$238.1 million.

          --Facilitated the quick transfer of military equipment under Excess Defence Articles program.  During the period 2011 to 2015, the following vessels were turned over to the Philippines:  BRP Gregorio del Pilar (Hamilton Class Cutter), 2001; BRP Ramon Alcaraz, 2013; BRP Velasquez (formerly Melville) 2016.  The transfer of a third cutter, USCGC Boutwell, is also in the works with a tentative turnover to the Philippines late 2016 subject to the availability of counterpart funding.  (To be continued).