NEW P.H.L. AMBASSADOR. New Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez (3rd from left) poses for a souvenir photo with (from left) IMSG System, Inc. vice president Sean Lam, Imelda Martin Hum and IMSG System, Inc. CEO Vance Hum shortly after the conclusion of the ASEAN-U.S. Business Council meeting at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, D.C. last Dec. 11. Vance Hum introduced the new ambassador to the audience.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – New Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel G. Romualdez gave a summary of Philippine developments in 2017, the first full year of the Duterte Administration, to a diverse audience during “2017 Philippines in Review” held on Dec. 18, 2017 at the Embassy’s Romulo Hall here.

Ambassador Romualdez’s year-end briefing for US government officials, private sector representatives and members of the Filipino community and the press focused on the reforms and trends in the Philippine economy, which has achieved more than 6 percent growth in the past nine quarters.

“The economy’s growth rate can be attributed to a number of factors. Strong growth in exports, improvements in public spending, and boosted performance in traditionally well-performing areas such as the manufacturing subsector and services sector has helped drive economic expansion,” Ambassador Romualdez said.

The ambassador also said that the preliminary internal consultations have begun on a potential bilateral Free Trade Agreement between the Philippines and the United States. In 2016, the US was the Philippines’s third largest trading partner and second biggest market for Philippine exports.

Infrastructure development was highlighted as a top priority of the Duterte Administration. “Build, Build, Build”, the Philippines’ infrastructure investment plan is considered one of the boldest and most ambitious infrastructure programs in history.

“The Administration’s goal is to invest over $170 billion in six years. By 2022, the government is expected to spend nearly $38 billion or 7.4% of GDP, on infrastructure alone,” Romualdez said.

“Our economic managers emphasize the multiplier and expansionary effects that investment in infrastructure and construction. The goal of the administration is to continue stimulating investment in the modernization of urban areas in Manila, while incentivizing greater investment in the rural areas,” he added.

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Also cited were the Philippine government’s comprehensive tax program, improved credit ratings, reforms aimed at increasing ease of doing business, partnerships with diverse development partners, and sustained government focus on poverty alleviation and delivery of social services.

The ambassador likewise briefed the audience on the achievements of the Philippines’s chairmanship of the 50th Anniversary of ASEAN, with an emphasis on the importance of a peaceful and stable Southeast Asia to the economies in the region and of the United States.

Apart from economic issues, Romualdez delved into the bilateral and strategic cooperation between the Philippines and the United States.

“It is said that security and economic development are two sides of the same coin. Our partnership with the US on political and security issues are just as robust as the economic relationship I just mentioned,” he said.

He identified counterterrorism and counter-narcotics as the primary focus of bilateral cooperation in 2018, emphasizing that it is to the interest of both the Philippines and the United States to eliminate the threats posed by terrorism and the illegal drugs trade.

Speaking on people-to-people ties between the Philippines and the US, Ambassador Romualdez called on the members of the Filipino Diaspora to make their own contributions to effect positive change. He announced the Embassy’s plans to strengthen its science diplomacy program and the scheduled inauguration of “Sentro Rizal Washington DC” or the Philippine Cultural Center, in the first quarter of 2018.

Many in the audience expressed appreciation of the year-end briefing, which was jointly organized by the Embassy and the US-Philippines Society. Hank Hendrickson, executive director of the US-Philippines Society, moderated a brief Q&A after the presentation.

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Ambassador John Negroponte, co-chair of the US-Philippines Society, said, “Ambassador Romualdez provided a comprehensive review of an exceptionally eventful year for the Philippines and US-Philippine relations. His presentation reached a diverse and influential American audience with a positive story of Philippine economic growth, strategic cooperation on bilateral and transnational issues, and prospects for increased trade and investment.”

US-ASEAN Business Council President and CEO Alex Feldman also remarked, “In his first state of the Philippines briefing, we were excited that new Philippine Ambassador to the USA Jose Manuel G. Romualdez was able to deliver such a comprehensive overview of the first eighteen months of the Duterte Administration.”

He further went on to say that, “The impressive economic growth that the Philippines has experienced over the last year and the predictions that it will continue into 2018 are the types of economic fundamentals that have attracted over $3.3 billion in American foreign direct investment to the Philippines and which will continue to attract US companies to the Philippines in the months and years ahead.  Major initiatives to improve the business environment, such as the ‘Build, Build, Build’ infrastructure development program and efforts to ease restrictions on foreign ownership in key sectors, will only make the Philippines an even more attractive destination for American corporations.”

Both the US-Philippines Society and US-ASEAN Business Council pledged to continue their strong partnerships with the Philippine Embassy in the coming years.