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TRUMP TRIP TO MANILA CONFIRMED

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By ALFRED G. GABOT

 

(Photo from Instagram | @whitehouse)

 

WASHINGTON/MANILA (PhilAmPress) – White House has confirmed officially that United States President Donald Trump will visit Manila next month to attend the Association of Southeast Asian (ASEAN) leaders summit where he is finally meeting for the first time Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

 

Last week, President Trump’s travel to the Philippines was already reported by Philippines Today as announced by US Ambassador to Manila Sung Kim in a speech at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (PLM) in Intramuros, Manila.

 

The White House announcement came on the heels of a reversal by Mr. Duterte on his pronouncements on the United States by now praising it as an ally and thanking it for helping the Philippines in many ways, including the war on terrorism in Marawi City and the campaign against illegal drugs.

 

It also came in the wake of the launch of new week-long joint military exercises between the Filipino and American forces.

 

The U.S. embassy said the military drills "will increase overall US and Philippine readiness, improve bilateral responsiveness to crises in the region, and further reinforce our illustrious decades-long alliance."

 

"(The operation) perpetuates a long and lasting partnership founded firmly on common heritage between freedom-loving countries," said Philippine Marines spokeswoman Captain Maria Rowena Dalmacio. 

 

About 900 U.S. troops are taking part in the training in various locations in  Luzon, including the former U.S. military base of Clark. Some 2,000 Filipino soldiers are part of the training.

 

Also, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, taking the place of the President in the United Nations assembly and meetings with US officials like Senators Cory Gardner and John McCain, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was a recent guest in Malacanang.

 

Duterte surprised Tillerson last month with a warm reception in Malacanang, describing himself as a "humble friend" of the United States.

 

Some commentators have attributed his softer tone to the Trump administration refraining from criticism of Duterte's signature war on drugs.

 

Secretary Cayetano, who met Tillerson in Washington on Wednesday, said the Philippines was open to receiving foreign observers to examine its human rights record and war on drugs, which has killed thousands.

 

In Washington, Secretary Cayetano told Sen.  Gardner of Colorado that the Philippines wanted to go beyond security issues and intensify economic cooperation with the US.

“For so long, it was security that defined Philippine-US relations and we think it is about time we started looking at the socio-economic milieu as another defining characteristic of our relationship,” Cayetano told Gardner.

 

“Let us use the present to re-examine the relationship with the objective of advancing our core interests together,” Cayetano added.

 

This was a reversal of the President Duterte’s announcement during the Philippines-China Trade and Investment Forum in October 2016 that the Philippines would cut its military and economic ties with the US.

 

For his part, Gardner expressed optimism on the availability of opportunities to increase trade, investment and other economic exchanges with the Philippines.

 

He said a “robust and dynamic” Philippines-US relationship contributes to the strength of the national economies of both countries.

 

Cayetano also briefed Gardner about the Philippine government’s efforts to engage international partners on human rights and counterterrorism.

                                                                                                                     

Mr. Trump’s visit will be part of his five-nation swing in Asia on Nov. 3 to 14, with stops in Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam, and the Philippines. 

 

The US leader is expected to take part in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit in the Philippines, where top officials from the bloc's global partner nations like China, Japan, Australia, and Canada are set to attend. 

 

Trump is set to tackle trade issues and the North Korean nuclear threat during his Asian trip, the White House said last week.

 

"The president's engagements will strengthen the international resolve to confront the North Korean threat and ensure the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," it said in a statement.

 

President Trump will be accompanied by First Lady Melania Trump in his travel to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Hawaii from November 3-14, the White House said.

 

The President will participate in a series of bilateral, multilateral, and cultural engagements—including the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Vietnam and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Manila, it was reported.

 

Demonstrating his continued commitment to the alliances and partnerships of the United States in the region, President Trump will discuss the importance of a free and open Indo-Pacific region to America's prosperity and security.

 

White House said the American leader will also emphasize the importance of fair and reciprocal economic ties with America's trade partners.

 

The President's engagements will strengthen the international resolve to confront the North Korean threat and ensure the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, according to the White House.

 

During a visit to ASEAN's Jakarta headquarters in April, Vice President Mike Pence had promised allies -- anxious about waning US engagement in the region -- that Trump would attend the bloc's summit in Manila this November.

 

Since then Trump's souring bromance with Duterte -- prompted, in part, by Duterte's rights record and his vow in July to never visit "lousy" America -- had thrown those plans in the air.

"He invited us so we're going to see," Trump said, while announcing he would go to Japan, South Korea, China and, maybe, Vietnam for a regional APEC economic summit.

 

Republican Senator Cory Gardner, who met Duterte in the Philippines earlier this year, has urged Trump to attend the ASEAN summit in Manila.

 

"I think it's very important that the president travel to the region to the summit," Gardner said. "Now more than ever the United States needs to show its leadership not just in rhetoric, but in action, in visible ways."

 

Early in his tenure, Trump courted controversy by praising Duterte for doing an "unbelievable job on the drug problem."

 

In his reversal of stance on US, Duterte voiced rare praise for the US during the 116th anniversary of the Balangiga massacre in Samar, calling it an important security ally, and dismissing historic grievances and his slew of past tirades against Washington as "water under the bridge".

 

Last year, at his first international summit in Laos, the maverick leader stunned regional leaders when he showed them pictures of that Balangiga massacre in which many Filipinos and Americans were killed.

 

Then U.S. President Barack Obama cancelled a bilateral meeting there with Duterte, who had called him a "son of a bitch" days earlier for expressing concern about his bloody war on drugs.

 

On Thursday, Duterte said he had been advised to tone down his anti-American rhetoric and had positive words for the U.S. military, with which he has repeatedly threatened to sever ties, besides accusing it of supplying ineffective combat hardware and of making the Philippines a potential target for war.

 

"This is all water under the bridge, I was under advice by the Department of Foreign Affairs, that I would temper my language and avoid cursing, which I am prone to do if I get emotional," Duterte said in a speech.

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