By William Casis
FilAm Star Correspondent
Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said the confirmed attendance of U.S. President Donald Trump to the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit (ASEAN) and Related Meetings reflected the “improving” ties between the Philippines and the United States under the Duterte administration.
“We confirm President Trump’s visit to the Philippines this November. President Trump’s visit underscores the improving PH-U.S. ties and President Duterte is looking forward to welcome the U.S. President in Manila,” Abella said in a statement.
In a statement on September 29, the White House said that Trump will visit Manila as part of a bumper November 3 to 14 tour that will also include stops in China, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and Hawaii.
During a visit to ASEAN’s Jakarta headquarters in April, Vice-president Mike Pence promised allies — anxious about waning U.S. engagement in the region — that Trump would attend the bloc’s summit in Manila this November.
But Trump’s souring bromance with host Duterte, and a range of other issues briefly tossed those plans up in the air.
Trump said earlier this month that Duterte had extended an invitation but that he had not yet decided whether to accept.
“He invited us so we’re going to see,” Trump said, while announcing he would go to Japan, South Korea, China and, maybe, Vietnam for a regional economic summit.
Philippine officials were surprised by the about face and the issue was raised during Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Sec. Alan Peter Cayetano’s visit to Washington.
Cayetano said the Philippines seeks to boost its economic cooperation with the United States in its efforts to strengthen bilateral relations between the two countries.
During his official visit to Washington, Cayetano told U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner that the Philippines is seeking to go beyond security issues.
“For so long, it was security that defined Philippine-U.S. relations and we think it is about time that we start looking at the socio-economic milieu as another defining characteristic of our relationship,” Cayetano said.
Gardner is the chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cyber-Security Policy.
“Let us use the present to re-examine the relationship with the objective of advancing our core interests together,” Cayetano added.
The DFA said the U.S. Senator expressed optimism about the available trade and investment opportunities between the two countries.
The DFA also said that Cayetano gave Gardner a briefing about the Philippine government’s efforts to engage with international partners on the issue of human rights and counter-terrorism.
“It is important that we keep our communication lines open to directly address matters of possible concern to our partners,” he said.
The traditionally strong bilateral relations between the treaty allies hit a snag in the first few months of Duterte’s administration when the Philippine president openly cursed then U.S. President Barack Obama, the State Department, and the U.S. government for criticizing his bloody war on drugs.
Duterte had also introduced an “independent” foreign policy that seeks to forge stronger ties with countries like China and Russia, and to make the Philippines less dependent on allies like the U.S.