PBBM, Biden to meet in NY at UNGA sidelines

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and US President Joe Biden are meeting next month in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo said.

In a virtual press conference with visiting US Secretary Antony Blinken, Manalo said Manila and Washington will work hard to make the Marcos-Biden side meeting happen and “sustain the positive momentum and trajectory of the Philippines-US relations.” 

Bilateral relations between the two defense allies thawed during the first four years of the administration of President Duterte as the former president focused on improving ties with China and Russia. During the pandemic, overall bilateral relations warmed up as the US donated 33.6 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to the Philippines, forcing Duterte to approve the revival of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

Upon the invitation of President Biden, President Marcos will also fly again to the US for a state visit, but the exact date has yet to be finalized.

Blinken is in Manila for a two-day visit, his first visit since he assumed office as the US top envoy. He flew from Cambodia where he had a series of multilateral and bilateral meetings with his counterparts in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and other regional partners. 

Blinken paid a courtesy call to President Marcos in Malacanang Saturday morning. Then he proceeded to hold a bilateral meeting with Manalo online. Manalo skipped attending the Asean ministerial meetings due to COVID-19 bout early this week and has just recently recovered. 

“I wanted to come to the Philippines at the start of the Marcos presidency because Philippines is an irreplaceable friend, partner and ally of the United States,” Blinken said during the press conference.

Manalo said the Philippine government welcomes the US government’s “assurances of their readiness to work closely with the new Philippine administration,” referring to President Marcos. He stressed that with such assurances, the US recognizes the Philippines as an “equal, sovereign partner in advancing our shared objective of promoting peace and prosperity in the region.”

Blinken stressed that the US would like to see the Philippines “strengthen democracy.”

“The US is committed to helping the Philippines collaboratively to defend the rule of law, protect human rights, fundamental freedoms incl freedom of expression and safeguards of the society. These values are critical in our alliance to the essential building of our future of what the Philippines want and deserve,” the US top diplomat said.

Duterte had earlier blasted the US, the European Union, and the United Nations human rights rapporteur for interfering in his anti-drug campaign.

Moves to stop funding the Philippine National Police gained traction in the US House of Representatives on reports on human rights violations and suppression of freedom of the press. 

In the next few weeks, two congressional delegations are expected to visit the Philippines.

“Recognizing that democracy, whether in the Philippines or the US will always be a work in progress, we agreed to maintain open lines of communication for discussing human rights issues,” Manalo said. He requested Blinken to “actively cultivate a constructive environment” within the ambit of the UN Human Rights Council. 

To show Manila’s commitment to dialogue with Washington DC on human rights, Manalo said he has designated DFA Undersecretary for Policy Ma. Theresa Lazaro as Philippine representative to the Focal Group to the 2nd Summit for Democracy, a US-led initiative to be hosted by President Biden.

In November, Mania will host the 10th Bilateral Strategic Dialogue to advance the political, security and economic cooperation between the two countries.