United States Secretary of State John Kerry is in Manila today (Tuesday) for his official visit to the country, which America considers as one of its closest allies in the Asia Pacific region.
The US Embassy in Manila said Kerry will be meeting with key business leaders to thank the private sector for its help in assisting the survivors of Typhoon Yolanda, which flattened out parts of eastern and central Visayas last month.
He will also be meeting Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and discuss with him ways to improve and strengthen the relations between Manila and Washington.
There will be discussions on the territorial issues in West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), particularly the maritime domain awareness, the bringing of the case before the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea (Itlos) and what the US military is doing in the region, reports were quoted a US official as saying.
The official maintained though that there will be no talk about re-establishing military bases in the country as this isn’t one of Washington’s agendas in ensuring freedom of navigation and commerce in West Philippine Sea, a vital sea route.
Kerry’s visit will begin with a wreath laying ceremony at the Manila American Memorial and Cemetery, which holds the largest number of graves of fallen American soldiers during the World War II. Other allies’ soldiers are also buried there.
After that, a meeting will be held between Kerry and Philippine business leaders in Makati City before he finally meets his counterpart, del Rosario.
A banquet on Tuesday night will also be held in honor of Kerry’s visit. President Benigno Aquino 3rd will meet the official there.
On Wednesday, Kerry will meet with the American community, some survivors of Typhoon Yolanda and aid workers and Philippine government officials.
The US official is expected to visit Tacloban City, the province most affected by the typhoon, on Wednesday night.
While there, Kerry will be assessing the US contributions in terms of humanitarian and relief operations, as well as plotting his country’s commitment in the long-term reconstruction plan for Tacloban City and other affected areas.
Kerry was supposed to visit the Philippines in October as a stand in for US President Barack Obama, but he postponed it because of the typhoon.
Obama cancelled trips to the Philippines and Malaysia, as well as back-to-back regional summits in Brunei and Indonesia, because of a bitter budget impasse that forced the first-ever shutdown of the US government in 17 years.
In scrambling to reassure the Asia Pacific region that Washington attaches a significant importance to it as a new and rising economic power, Kerry promised to be back in a month or so.
Obama, for his part, will reportedly be in the Philippines in April next year. BERNICE CAMILLE V. BAUZON