Philippines’ president to forge stronger relations with US during visit

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said on Sunday that his upcoming meeting with US President Joe Biden was essential to advance his country’s national interest and strengthen the “very important alliance” between Manila and Washington.

Marcos departed Manila on Sunday for the first state visit of a Philippine leader to Washington in almost a decade, following a series of high-level engagements in the past year, including his meeting with Biden on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York in September and the visit of US Vice President Kamala Harris to the Philippines in November.

Marcos said: “My visit to the United States and more especially my meeting with President Joe Biden is essential to advancing our national interests and strengthening that very important alliance.”

His trip comes at a time of growing geopolitical tension over self-ruled Taiwan and concerns over China’s conduct in the disputed South China Sea. It also takes place amid stronger Philippine-US defense ties marked by their largest-ever joint military drills in April and a recent expansion of US access to Philippine bases.

Marcos highlighted his determination to strengthen Philippine-US ties “in a wide range of areas that not only address concerns of our times, but also those that are critical to advancing our core interests,” citing areas such as food security, climate change, cybersecurity, and economic resilience.

The Philippines would reaffirm its “commitment to fostering our long-standing alliances as an instrument of peace and as a catalyst of development in the Asia Pacific region,” Marcos added, while also pushing “for greater economic engagement” with the US.

Although the Filipino leader has been seeking good relations with both China and the US, the Philippines’ ties with the latter are only returning after years under former President Rodrigo Duterte, who distanced Manila from Washington in favor of Beijing.

“He’s taking time out and I think … the optics of that are just massive, especially considering the last administration,” Stephen Cutler, former FBI legal attache to Manila, told Arab News. “So, I think this is going to be good.”

Marcos’ trip also gives room to discuss other issues in Philippine-US relations besides their defense ties, Cutler said.

“The relationship with the United States and the issues that the Philippines faces go far beyond only or mere military security.

“One of the things that the president’s visit will allow him to do is to establish some really good, I hope, relationships with the US businesses that have the ability to add jobs in that field here in the Philippines,” he added.

Job creation, according to national surveys, is among the top concerns among Filipinos.

Marcelino Libanan, minority leader at the Philippine House of Representatives, said: “We are all counting on the president’s trip to pave the way for additional American direct investment inflows that we need to support our economic recovery and generate new employment.”