Bernardo M. Villegas
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Strong Foundations of PH-US Relations (Part 3)

            Further enhancing the positive image of the Philippines in the U.S. was the success in engaging US Government officials, in coordination with Philippine government officials, to help upgrade the Philippines to a Tier 1 placement in the State Department’s 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report.  The Philippines got into the Tier 2 watch list in 2009 and remained in the watch list in 2010 because of findings that the country did not show evidence of significant progress in convicting trafficking offenders, particularly those responsible for labor trafficking.

          There has also been heightened awareness by many legislators about many issues of common concern to both Filipinos and Americans.  A sign of this interest is the large number of members of the U.S. Congress who have joined US-Philippine Friendship Caucus in the House of Representatives which number 69 members as of 30 June 2016.  U.S. legislators have also been vocal supporters of the Philippines in its advocacy in the South China Sea and increased assistance for capacity building in maritime security and maritime domain awareness.  The South China Sea is an issue that has bipartisan support across both chambers of the U.S. Congress.  Also worth following up is the filing of a bill giving the Congressional Gold Medal to Filipino World War II veterans.

          Efforts initiated by Ambassador Cuisia worth continuing and enhancing are:

          --The promotion of the Philippines as an exciting tourism destination.  The vehicles used included the annual Ambassador, Consuls General and Tourism Directors Tours (ACGDT) and the private sector-led NOW Tour, an immersion trip to the Philippines geared towards the next-generation of Filipino-Americans.

          --Filipino-American Youth Leadership Program (FYLPRO) gave forty high-performing next-generation Fil-AMs the opportunity to immerse themselves in Philippine conditions and to hone their leadership potentials.  I met some of these Fil-am yuppies and I was impressed with their interest to learn more about their Filipino roots and to someday help in the development of our country.  We should harness the idealism of these young Fil-Ams especially in helping the Philippines catch up in such highly technical industries as biotech, nanotechnology and software development.  There are a good number of them in Texas and California.

          --The elevation of Philippine arts and culture in Washington, D.C. through the Embassy’s organization of high-profile projects.   Some of these were the performance of the Bayanihan National Dance Company at the Memphis in May Festival in 2012; concert of the U.P. Madrigal Singers in 2013; benefit  concert for Typhoon Haiyan victims “After the Storm” in 2014 which included, among others, Broadway star Leah Salonga and singer-songwriter apl.d.ap; exhibition of the works of eminent furniture designer Kenneth Cobonpue; and a fashion show featuring the creative works of the “Grand Dame of Philippine Fashion” Patis Tesoro in 2015; concert by world-class talents Lani Misalucha and Martin Nievera in 2016; etc.  The Embassy also sponsored the participation of Chef Claude Tayag and mixologist Enzo Lim at the 2016 Embassy Chef Challenge.  It was a significant achievement considering that it was the first time that the Philippine Embassy participated in Washington’s top culinary event.

          There is much to be gained by focusing on all the good that has been done on both sides instead of needlessly harping on the real and imagined sins committed by one against the other.  I fully sympathize with President Duterte when he started ranting about the crimes against humanity committed by the American soldiers during the Philippine-American War during the last years of the nineteenth century.  My grandfather, General Miguel Malvar—who was the last Filipino General to surrender to the Americans—was in danger of being killed numerous times by the Americans during his two years of hiding in the Makiling mountains as a revolutionary against the U.S. military forces.  In fact, if he had been killed, I would not be around because my mother was born after he had surrendered.  Hearing stories from my uncles about all the killings of innocent people perpetuated by the Americans in Batangas as they pursued the guerrillas led by my grandfather, I would be justified to harbor resentment against the U.S.  As both a practical person and as a Christian, however, I consider holding grudges as a completely useless and unproductive exercise.  As former President Ramos advised PDu30, it would be better for the common good of the Filipinos if we identify all the common causes we have with other nations and work with them especially to uplift the poor, whatever our political differences may be.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.