DFA's Manalo, Blinken tackle fertilizer supply, human rights

Job Manahan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 06 2022 05:31 PM

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) arrives at the presidential palace in Manila, Philippines, on August 6, 2022. Rolex Dela Pena, EPA-EFE
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) arrives at the presidential palace in Manila, Philippines, on August 6, 2022. Rolex Dela Pena, EPA-EFE


MANILA — Talks between the Philippines and the United States are ongoing regarding fertilizer access and modernization of the agriculture sector, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Saturday. 

Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo said he is heeding the call of President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. to address food security issues amid the climate crisis and Russia's invasion of Ukraine. 

"We recognize the important role that the US can play in ensuring that developing countries like ours can have access to key commodities including fertilizers," said Manalo in a joint press briefing with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. 

"We agree to continue our discussions on how we can cooperate on accessing fertilizers, lower prices for our farmers, as well as technology that will allow us to modernize and make agriculture in the Philippines more efficient, cost effective and climate smart," the country's top diplomat said. 

Marcos earlier last month said government is open to pursuing government-to-government talks to ensure the country's fertilizer supply and address increasing food prices. 

Marcos, who currently heads the agriculture portfolio, said he can personally write to the governments of China, Indonesia, United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, and Russia regarding the matter.

“Gusto tayong tulungan, gusto tayong lapitan, eh ‘di take advantage naman tayo, ‘di ba. Sige bigyan niyo kami ng fertilizer na medyo maganda-ganda ang presyo. That’s the whole point of G2G,” he said.

Aside from this, the two countries also vowed to boost economic cooperation by promoting "resilient supply chains, health systems, and infrastructure," said Manalo. 

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The two countries, the official added, are also seeking "opportunities to collaborate in marine resource management and clean energy, particularly nuclear energy." 

"We will do so bilaterally and within the context of the United States-led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), where the Philippines is a country partner," he said.

Marcos, Jr., during his first State of the Nation Address, said he would prioritize the push for renewal energy amid the climate crisis, which includes including nuclear in the country's energy mix.

HUMAN RIGHTS

The two countries also tackled the importance of human rights and democracy under the Marcos administration, since this is among the "very foundation of our partnership," Manalo said. 

To reaffirm the country's commitment to dialogue on human rights, Manalo announced the designation of Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Theresa Lazaro as the country's representatives to the Focal Group for the Summit for Democracy. 

The second democracy summit will be hosted by US President Joe Biden next year.

"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," said Manalo. 

"Our request made to our American partners is to actively contribute to cultivating a constructive environment, within the UN Human Rights Council," he added. 

"Recognizing the importance of financial and technical assistance to support national institutions in the areas of human rights, I urged Secretary Blinken to support Philippine work in the UN Joint Program."

The US government had criticized the administration of Marcos Jr's predecessor, former President Rodrigo Duterte, as there were allegedly rampant human rights abuses under his leadership because of his drug war.

Released in April this year, the US State Department's 2021 human rights report on the Philippines noted the government's clamp down on journalists and free speech, threats to activists and rights organizations, a slow justice system, and "high-level and widespread corruption" fueled by nepotism under Duterte's administration. 

Former Palace spokesperson Martin Andanar blasted the report, claiming these issues have already been addressed.

At least of 6,000 people have been killed during anti-illegal drugs operations since July 2016, data from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) showed. 

Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles said the Philippines was investigating the killings under the war on drugs of Duterte, which is also the subject of a suspended ICC inquiry that its prosecutor wanted to resume. 
 
But Marcos said on Monday, "The Philippines has no intention of rejoining the ICC."