WASHINGTON (UPDATE) - The Philippines and the United States launched over the weekend the two countries' commemoration this year of the 75th anniversary of their diplomatic ties.
Manila's envoy to the U.S. Jose Manuel Romualdez and former US Amb. to the Philippines Sung Kim, who is now U.S. Acting Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, led the kickoff event - the unveiling of official logo of the 75th Anniversary of PH-US Diplomatic Relations.
"We're making it a point, in spite of all the challenges that we have this year and this pandemic, to remind all of us that we have the 75 years of diplomatic relations with this country," Romualdez said at the event.
"And we hope that it will continue to thrive and become stronger and more stable down the road," he added.
Formal diplomatic relations between the Philippines and the US started on July 4, 1946, also known as the former's day of independence from the latter. The US colonized the Philippines from 1898, after nearly four centuries of being a colony of Spain.
July 4 has since been dubbed Fil-Am Friendship Day.
This year also marks the 70th anniversary of Manila and Washington's Mutual Defense Treaty, which was signed on Aug. 30, 1951.
"It was a true privilege to see first-hand the strength of the bond between our two countries, starting with the unbreakable friendship between Americans and Filipinos, and of course, the robust military partnership that we have," Kim said.
According to him, there is a "potential" for the Philippines and the US "to develop the relationship even further, even deeper."
"I think that starts with the warmth, affection, and mutual respect between our two countries," he said.
President Rodrigo Duterte, who rose to power in 2016, had repeatedly hit the US for criticizing the human rights situation in the Philippines. While in China in October that year, he announced his "separation" from the US, saying he was aligning with Beijing and Russia.
Romualdez said that while he has yet to speak directly with US President Joe Biden since the latter came to power early this year, he has been in touch with the White House to discuss COVID-19 vaccines for the Philippines, the impact of Asian hate on the Fil-Am community, and the human rights situation in his home country.
"We intend to meet with them again - members of the US Congress and the US Senate - and we continue to work with them on all of these issues," he said.
"Every country has their problems as far as human rights. US has their own problem here, as we all know here," he added.
The focus now, though, is on getting more vaccines for the Philippines, said the envoy.
"Our number one priority is to give the vaccine to our people... One film doctor friend of mine told me very succinctly, and then Riley said, what's the point in talking about so many issues when we're all gonna be dead if we don't get these vaccines right away," Romualdez said.
The Philippines last year formally notified the U.S. on the abrogation of their Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), a pact anchored on the MDT that governs the conduct of American troops visiting Manila, after the US visa of Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa, an ally of Duterte, was revoked.
But the termination was postponed twice in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and other developments.
Last month, Duterte said the US must "pay" a certain fee if the it wants to keep to keep the VFA.
Romualdez said the Philippines is working on a deal with the Biden administration as he hopes his country will receive excess Pfizer-made vaccines from the US later this year.
Last year, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said the Philippines was supposed to receive Pfizer vaccines as early as January 2021. But the deal fell through after the Department of Health failed to submit several documentary requirements to the US pharmaceutical giant.
- report from Don Tagala, ABS-CBN News