By Daniel Llanto | FilAm Star Correspondent
After due consultations with administration officials, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel and Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg assured that the U.S. remains a “steady and trusted” partner of the Philippines as though acknowledging another flip-flop by President Duterte on the country’s supposed severance of ties with the U.S.
Shortly before Russel rushed to Manila, Duterte clarified that he was not cutting ties with the superpower in the interest of the estimated four million Filipinos living in America. This was a complete turn-around from his repeated rants against the U.S. and declaration of military and economic “separation” from the country’s long-time ally.
“Sever is to cut, separate is just to chart another way of doing it,” he said at a news conference in Davao upon arrival from his recent state visit to Beijing.
“You have to take my words in the context of what I’ve been saying all along. It’s not severance of ties; severance of ties means you cut the diplomatic relations. I cannot do that,” Duterte said.
The President added, “Why? It is to the best interest of my country that we maintain that relationship. Why? Because there are many Filipinos in the United States, Americans of Filipino ancestry. Why? Because the people of my country [are] not ready to accept.”
He said severing ties with the U.S. “is not feasible” because “Filipinos in the U.S. will kill me. That is why I am not going there, not in this lifetime,” Duterte added.
Russel, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said Monday America remains committed to its relations with the Philippines notwithstanding fiery rhetoric against his country.
However, Russel told reporters that while the U.S. supports Manila’s “effort against the scourge of drugs,” Washington was concerned over the loss of lives, which is “not a positive trend” and is “bad for business as well.”
Ambassador Goldberg said Russel and U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and
Pacific Security Kelly Magsamen are in Manila to seek clarification on Duterte’s previous statements against the U.S.
“We’re seeking exact clarification. We have two U.S. officials seeking clarification,” Goldberg said.
“We are trying to sort out exactly what that means in policy terms. What that means in terms of ongoing relationship. This is a sovereign country, and the U.S. has treated the Philippines as co-equal,” Goldberg said.
Goldberg for his part said the ties between the U.S. and the Philippines “are really unbreakable in many ways.”
Goldberg attended the commissioning of the newly delivered C-130 cargo plane at the Philippine Air Force headquarters at Villamor Air Base in Pasay City. The Philippines acquired the aircraft from the U.S. through the latter’s Excess Defense Articles (EDA) program.
He pointed to the cargo plane as evidence that Philippine-U.S. relations remain intact.
“There are 3.5 million Filipino-Americans and there are a couple of hundred thousand
Americans who live in the Philippines,” Goldberg said, explaining his country’s “unbreakable” bond with the Philippines.
He said that while certain developments appear to have undermined U.S.-Philippine relations, there are factors that have kept such relationship from deteriorating.
Duterte issued the controversial statement on at least two occasions during his state visit to Beijing last week. He had also bared intention to pivot to China and Russia. Being a sovereign state, he said the Philippines should make its own decisions on what it believes is in the best interest of the country.
For this anti-U.S. stance, American companies and the local BPO industry with clientele of at least 80 percent American firms turned jittery. Malacanang assured that no harm will come to these companies.
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said: “Yes of course, they will be protected. Not only them but all businesses. If we will not protect them, why are we still pursuing economic development? That is part of development so we have to protect those investments.”
The U.S. is the top investor in the Philippines’ BPO sector, which has generated about 1.2 million jobs.