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US Hopes To “Get Off To A Good Start’ With New Philippine Administration

US Hopes To “Get Off  To A Good Start’ With New Philippine Administration
This Associated Press file photo shows US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell speaking during a press conference at the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Dec. 13, 2012.

The United States is seeking early engagement with the administration of presumptive president-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in the Philippines, although historical considerations mean there will probably be some initial challenges, the chief US policy maker for Asia said in Washington on Wednesday, May 11.

“Time will tell, but our desire will be to get off to a good start,” Kurt Campbell, the White House coordinator for the Indo-Pacific said of Marcos's decisive victory on Monday, May 9, in the Philippines' presidential election.

“We are seeking early engagement,” he said. “There are some historical considerations that probably (mean), at least initially, there will be some challenges in that communication.”

The Philippines is a long-standing treaty ally of the United States, but the victory of Marcos – son and namesake of the country's former dictator - is a potential blow to US efforts to push back against China, Washington's main strategic rival.

Marcos’s relationship with the United States has been complicated by a contempt-of-court order for his refusal to cooperate with the District Court of Hawaii, which in 1995 ordered the Marcos family to pay $2 billion of plundered wealth to victims of Marcos Sr.’s rule.

Marcos hasn’t visited the United States for 15 years, fearful of the consequences of the rulings.

The US State Department and Department of Justice did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday, May 10, about whether Marcos would be granted diplomatic immunity if he visited, although lawyers and analysts says this would be customary.

On China, Marcos has long-standing ties with Beijing and is seeking a new deal with Chinese ruler Xi Jinping over the contested waters of the strategic and resource-rich South China Sea.

Campbell said the Philippines was critically important and Washington would “seek to continue close partnership in the security realm and increasing trade and economic ties.”

"Our expectation is we'll be able to continue to work closely."

Campbell said US relations with outgoing President Duterte “really rebounded” toward the end of his term, “at least at the strategic level.”

Campbell made the comments as the US Institute of Peace ahead of President Joe Biden's summit with Southeast Asian countries on Thursday, May 12, and Friday, May 13. The Philippines will not attend at leader level due to its transition.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. will be attending the summit, which will tackle issues related to pandemic recovery, health security, maritime security, climate change, clean energy transformation, digital economy, trade and sustainable infrastructure.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said Locsin’s participation in the summit “will reaffirm the Philippines’ commitment to collaborate with its neighbors and partners for a sustainable post-pandemic recovery and lasting peace and security in the region.”

US White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki also said at a press briefing in Washington that “we look forward to renewing our partnership and to working with the next administration on key priorities, including strengthening our alliance; advancing a free, open Indo-Pacific and promoting human rights.”

“We understand that vote tabulation is well underway and that candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr. stands in the lead, but we’re going to wait for the official call before we have a more formal comment,” she added.

At a separate briefing, US Department of State spokesman Ned Price stopped short of recognizing Marcos’ possible victory in the presidential race, noting that the counting is ongoing and that Philippine election authorities should be the one to declare a winner.

“We’re monitoring the election results and we look forward to renewing our special partnership and to working with the next administration on key human rights and regional priorities,” he said.

“As I said, we look forward to working with the president-elect, once that person is officially named, to strengthen the enduring alliance between the United States and the Philippines,” he added.

Echoing Psaki, Price said they look forward to working with whoever wins the elections “on the shared values and the shared interests that have united our countries across generations.”

“It’s an enduring alliance that is rooted in a long and deeply interwoven history, shared democratic values and interests and strong people-to-people ties between our countries as friends, as partners, as allies,” said the US State Department official.

“We’ll continue to collaborate closely to advance a free and open, connected, prosperous, secure and resilient Indo-Pacific region. We’ll also continue, as I said before, to promote respect for human rights and the rule of law, which is fundamental to US relations with the Philippines and in other bilateral contexts as well,” he added.

On the conduct of the elections, Price noted that the casting and counting of votes “have been conducted in line with international standards and without significant incident.”

China congratulates Phl

The Chinese government has congratulated the Philippines and the leading candidates following the conduct of May 9 national and local elections.

“China congratulates the Philippines on the smooth presidential election. Our congratulations also go to the leading candidates,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said during a press briefing in Beijing on Wednesday.

“We hope and believe that various political forces in the Philippines will continue to work in solidarity for national renewal and development,” he added.

Zhao underscored the “long-standing traditional friendship” between China and the Philippines.

“We are good partners for mutually beneficial cooperation and fellow travelers on the road to common development. Under the strategic guidance of our heads of state, bilateral relations have been steadily upgraded. The flourishing relationship has delivered benefits to both peoples and contributed to regional peace and stability,” he said.

“China will continue to work together with the Philippines to stay committed to good-neighborliness and friendship, focus on post-COVID growth, expand win-win cooperation and bring more tangible benefits to both peoples,” he added.

The Chinese official did not raise the issue of territorial dispute between Manila and Beijing over islands and features in the South China Sea, including those within the exclusive economic zone in the Philippines.

Marcos Jr., who is leading the partial and unofficial tally by a huge margin, is expected to pursue closer relations with China if elected president.

Last year, he met with Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian during the unveiling of a new photo wall featuring historic moments between the two countries.

Observers satisfied

Despite reports of vote counting machines (VCMs) malfunctioning, international observers were “satisfied” with the conduct of the May 9 polls, according to the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

Acting Comelec spokesman John Rex Laudiangco said on Wednesday that not only the VCMs, but the entire electoral process were tested and certified by an international entity.

“Not just hardware, not just software but the totality of the electoral process and that includes transmission, even the transmission routers were all tested and certified… that is why the in-ternational observers are really satisfied with the elections we had been conducting,” Laudiangco said in English and Filipino.

He made the statement in reaction to the US State Department’s acknowledgement that the Philippine elections followed international standards. – With Janvic Mateo, Mayen Jaymalin