By Roy Mabasa
United States Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim on Thursday said it is more important to listen to what is happening on the policies and substance concerning the relationship between Manila and Washington, D.C. rather than the occasional political rhetoric from President Rodrigo Duterte.
Kim was reacting to questions about Duterte’s most recent statement saying that some countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are complaining about the meddling of western countries in the internal affairs of regional neighbors like Indonesia, Cambodia, and Malaysia.
“We work together on so many fronts and making concrete progress in so many important areas, and I’m also quite optimistic what’s happening right now. I think it’s important to pay more attention to what’s happening on the ground, what actions and policies and substance rather than occasional political rhetoric,” Kim told reporters at the “Kapihan sa Embahada” forum held inside the US Embassy in Manila.
Despite Duterte’s continuous diatribes against the US and other western countries, including the European Union, Kim remained optimistic about the prospect of the Philippine-U.S. relations, calling it a “special partnership.”
“Honestly I remain optimistic about the future of the relations between our two countries. My optimism is not only based on what we have in the past and I think all of you (know) what happened in the relations over the past decades. I mean it’s a special partnership. It is the oldest alliance we have in the Asia Pacific region,” he said.
The US envoy cited, in particular, his own sense of what is happening on the ground in terms of economic engagement, cooperation in Marawi, the long history of assistance provided by the USAID, on culture, people-to-people and educational ties.
“It’s hard not to be optimistic about the relations. My answer is definitely yes, I remain optimistic,” Kim said.
Ambassador Kim also said that despite the political rhetoric directed against the US, he has “frank, honest and direct but always cordial and professional discussion” about the full range of issues between the two countries whenever he meets the Philippine leader.
“I think it’s much more important to focus on what we are actually doing in the relationship than pay too much attention into what is sometimes said publicly,” the American diplomat said.
On the same occasion, Kim announced that the US government is allocating an additional P182 million to help almost 58,000 internally displaced people in Marawi and surrounding areas.
Together with their partners on the ground, the envoy said they will build transitional shelters with water and sanitation facilities, provide psycho-social support, establish safe spaces to protect women and children from exploitation and violence and to jumpstart the local economy thru income-generating activities.
This additional fund, he said, brings the total amount of US contributions to the Marawi humanitarian to nearly P1.4 billion.
“This is always an important work and we hope to do more in the coming years,” Kim said.