The alliance should also move forward in the realm of economic cooperation. The United States is already a leading investor and export market for the Philippines, but, amid ongoing Sino-American trade wars, it’s crucial for the two allies to finalize the proposed new US-Philippine Trade and Investment Framework Agreement to inject greater vitality into their alliance. The Trump administration should also look at how to leverage the recently augmented $60-billion Better Utilization of Investments Leading to Development (BUILD) initiative to deepen American infrastructure investments in the Philippines.
The BUILD Act aims to catalyze billions of dollars in new commercial investments, can be teamed up with development assistance that the United States is preparing to add to the region, as well as a complement development programs with Japan and other donors with high standards of transparency and accountability in order to ensure countries such as the Philippines, which is in the middle of its own “build, build, build” infrastructure program, don’t excessively rely on Chinese funding alone.
And then, there is the aspect of personal diplomacy and overcoming historical grievances from the early, brutal years of American colonial occupation of the Philippines. To Duterte’s satisfaction, the United States is on the cusp of returning the three Balangiga church bells taken from the Philippines in 1901. When this goodwill gesture finally takes place, it should not merely mark a new beginning in a relationship of mutual respect, but also usher in a period of new trade and investment, education, and exchange, and security cooperation between the two allies.
Patrick Cronin is senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) in Washington.
Richard Javad Heydarian is an assistant professor in international affairs and political science at De La Salle University. He previously served as a policy advisor at the Philippine House of Representatives.