In less than a year, Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel “Babe” Romualdez has achieved most of what was on Uncle Sam’s laundry list of to-do’s for US Interests to be pursued in the Philippines. These pursuits had been in the dumps since former President Rodrigo Duterte won the Presidency in 2016 and promptly declared that the Philippines will not side with any major foreign power, an indirect reference to the Americans as the former colonial masters.
Romualdez didn’t achieve much during the Duterte administration in his role as the Philippine representative to the US. He didn’t even bother to issue a strongly-worded statement when Filipinos became the top victims of vicious hate crimes there or when Filipino deportees were handcuffed during the plane ride home,
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He failed to fight for the Philippines when the US blocked the weapons delivery for our soldiers at the height of Marawi crisis or vaccines for our medical frontliners during the height of the pandemic.
The same is true when it came to working for Filipino nurses’ rights to additional compensation at the height of the of the Covid lockdown when American hospitals were teeming with patients and nurses risked their lives by working way more hours than required.
He also failed to demand a commitment from the US on their support for our ownership claim of Sabah,
Romualdez has been busier shuttling back and forth between Washington and Manila, mostly lobbying for American interests in the Philippines, instead of the other way around as his job requires.
He did admit to directly lobbying with Duterte for the restoration of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which was an American condition to allowing the sale of Western-brand mRNA vaccines to the Philippines. At the height of great need for the Philippines, the Americans, who claim to be our allies, were nowhere to be found, and so was Ambassador Romualdez.
In an Asia Times interview with Richard Heydarian, Romualdez also elaborated on the question of an expanded alliance, not only with the US, but with other QUAD partners such as Japan and Australia. Romualdez said that the Philippines is open to such agreements with “like-minded” allies in the region. Interestingly, he didn’t even mention that Japan and the US bombed each other in Manila in World War II resulting in the deaths of over a million Filipinos.
Since the renewal of “closer ties” between the Philippines and the US, the latter has been more vocal in its expressions of support against Chinese “incursions” in the disputed waters off the South China Sea.
Philippine Coast Guard echoes US Interests
The Philippine Coast Guard has also been more aggressive in issuing challenges to Chinese fishing vessels during its patrols, in recent encounters asking the captains of vessels thru approach to provide information about their intentions. There are no reports of these Chinese fishing vessels bothering to respond to these challenges at all.
One can’t help but think that the US is being deliberate with these moves as part of an effort to provoke China into acting against the Philippines and Taiwan. There have been statements from both Romualdez and Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo of additional Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) sites in the country, aside from the additional four which were recently announced.
All of these concessions favor the US but not much has been given to the Philippines in exchange for the same. The US Trade Representative, Katherine Tai, even went to the Philippines to slap the rejection in our face, categorically stated that the Philippines is still not part of the Trans-Pacific trade agreement and the renewal of the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) is up to the decision of the US Congress.
America’s Betrayals of the Philippines
Critical-thinking Filipinos question what exactly the Philippines stands to gain in return for these military concessions which put Filipinos at great risk.
The Americans gave the Japanese a pass when it came to the amount of war reparations to be paid to the Philippines. The Americans never rebuilt the infrastructure damaged during the war nor did they come up with a corresponding aid package to finance the reconstruction for the Philippines. The Americans handed Sabah to the British on a silver platter after it took possession of the Philippines under the Treaty of Paris. The Americans took advantage of the country’s natural resources from 1898 up to 1974, when the Philippines was still a colony and after “independence” in 1946, when the Americans continued to enjoy parity rights with Filipinos up to 1974.
It appears that Romualdez is primus inter pares with President Bongbong Marcos when it comes to the conduct of foreign policy, particularly to the diplomatic relationship with the US. It can’t be said that Marcos doesn’t know what’s going on but the elephant in the room is this: What concessions did Romualdez get for Marcos which became the basis for the turnaround in the country’s “independent” foreign policy?
There will be ramifications for these actions with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China. So far, China has continued playing a game of chicken with Marcos and the Americans. Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang paid a visit to the Philippines recently. The reception and talks were cordial but the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs and Coast Guard continue to publish messages critical of China in the media.
Marcos loyalist social media operators surfaced a photo of Marcos having dinner with Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian but it seemed convenient that no other details were provided. This was supposed to be proof that Marcos is a “friend to all.”
Despite the continued claims of Marcos that his foreign policy continues to be “independent,” not too many Filipinos believe it to be. Most Filipinos are pro-American than Chinese but they must not forget that the Americans have a poor track record of delivering on their puny “commitments” to the Philippines.
There is the Scarborough Shoal standoff of 2012 which serves as a constant reminder of how easily the Americans can sell out the Filipinos if it is in their best interest. This is what the “rules-based international order” that the Americans have been pushing, stands for.
Conservative estimates cite a total of one million Filipinos perishing in World War II. Manila was the second most devastated city after Warsaw. It ceased to be the Pearl of the Orient. During the Philippine – American War from 1899 – 1902, an estimated 200,000- 600,000 Filipinos died, with only 20,000 as combatants. The greater majority consisted of civilians who perished in massacres perpetrated by American soldiers.
Who is the man called Babe?
Jose Manuel Del Gallego “Babe” Romualdez is a second cousin to the Marcos’ through the former First Lady Imelda, who is the first cousin of his father, Alberto Sr. His brother, Alberto Jr., was the Secretary of Health during the Estrada administration. He is the third Romualdez to become the Philippine Ambassador to the United States. Eduardo, an uncle and Kokoy, his cousin, preceded him.
Romualdez is one of two rabid Amboys in the Philippine diplomatic and press scene. The other is former Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, who is now the Philippine Ambassador to the Court of St. James.
Interestingly enough, both Romualdez and Locsin enjoy their career renaissance because of their appointment to their previous posts by the erstwhile quintessential anti-American, former President Rodrigo Duterte.
Locsin was initially appointed the Philippine Ambassador to the United Nations while Romualdez as Special Envoy to the United States while the post of Ambassador was unfilled. Duterte later made Romualdez’s appointment permanent, while Locsin replaced Alan Peter Cayetano, as the country’s top diplomat.
Some pundits labeled Duterte’s appointment of Romualdez and Locsin as master strokes because it left him free and clear to make it appear he effected a paradigm shift in Philippine foreign policy by being more pro-China and anti-US, while retaining the services of two the country’s top pro-American journalist-diplomats.
Romualdez has been working to restore American preeminence in the Philippines since Marcos’s victory last May 9. It was Romualdez who organized the working visit to the US, which was basically Marcos attending the annual United Nations General Assembly in New York and meeting with different US companies looking at potential investments in the country. The bonus was the meet-and-greet with US President Joe Biden on the sidelines.
Marcos just completed his official visit to the US. The media reported on the many promises and pledges but not one questioned how much of the past pledges were actually delivered and actually benefited the Philippines. His audience with Biden, who enjoys less than 35% approval rating, is the crowning achievement of Romualdez, who had been pushing for it with the State Department and the West Wing officials of the White House.
This is after the US rejected the Philippines request for better trade arrangements, but comes after the Balikatan exercises between the Philippines and US military, where 12,000 American soldiers were said to have trained shoulder to shoulder with 5,000 Filipino soldiers.
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