MANILA— Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel Romualdez trusts that the incoming Biden administration would continue the long-standing US policy on the South China Sea disputes and its recognition of the 2016 arbitral ruling that invalidated China’s expansive maritime claims.
In a speech in a virtual meeting of the Rotary Club of Manila, Romualdez also expressed optimism that relations between the Philippines and the US would remain good and “very well” under the administration of US President-elect Joe Biden.
Romualdez gave credit to former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario for pursuing the case against China even if the US State Department under the Obama administration opted not to take sides on the maritime disputes.
It was Del Rosario who led the filing of a case against China before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2013, seeking to stop China's incursions into the Philippines' exclusive economic zone in the disputed waters. The ruling came out in July 2016, as the Duterte administration freshly took over.
“In my conversations with some of the foreign policy advisers of president-elected Biden, they indicated that they will most likely continue with the current policy regarding China and the South China Sea and the importance of the 2016 PCA decision in maintaining peace and balance in the region,” Romualdez said.
“Regardless of who is in the Oval Office, whether Republican or Democrat, I am confident that the United States and the Philippines will continue to be close allies. We will continue building that goodwill and friendship that exist between the two nations and our people and carry on the work of our predecessors to advance a mutually beneficial relationship between the Philippines and the United States," he added.
The US has long advocated for upholding freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, a critical trading route being claimed in near entirety by China.
Meanwhile, Romualdez assured Washington that steps are being taken to address concerns that some US legislators have expressed over the human rights situation in the Philippines, with calls and threats to stop US aid.
Romualdez expressed appreciation for the more than $550 million in US military aid the country received from 2016 to 2019.
The envoy, meanwhile, said some forces might attempt to drive a wedge between Duterte and the incoming US president. When he rose to power in 2016, Duterte had unsavory words for then outgoing US President Barack Obama, who had expressed concern over his anti-drug campaign amid reported killings.
Biden was Obama's Vice President.
“For sure, the usual suspects will take advantage of the situation and try to put a wedge between President Duterte and president-elect Biden but the fact is this issue has been going on for many years with accusations on human rights violations also hurled against the predecessors of President Duterte in the past,” Romualdez said.
“We’re not saying that there are no human rights violations but people must also recognize that something in fact is being done such as the filing of cases against members of the police force who are themselves involved in illegal drugs trade," he added.
On immigration, Romualdez said Biden might reinstate in full the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program as he reiterated an advice to Filipinos illegally staying in the US to leave voluntarily rather than be deported.
Meanwhile, he said that based on monitoring, about 55% to 60% of Filipino-American voters “probably voted” for Joe Biden, many of them living in California, known as a bailiwick of Democrats.
There are about 4 million Filipino-Americans in the US, of whom an estimated 1.8 million are registered voters.