It really is more fun in the Philippines
By U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines, Harry K. Thomas, Jr.
On a personal level, I learned the importance of relationships in PH culture. Many relationships that I and other US diplomats built here began as professional ties and became lifelong friendships.
I arrived in Manila in 2010, just as Filipinos were electing a new president. Over the subsequent three years, the United States was proud to support President Aquino and his administration in combating corruption, improving human rights, and expanding opportunities for all citizens of this beautiful archipelago. I left the Philippines confident that the Filipino people will continue building a better future for themselves and their children.
In my time in the Philippines, the relationship between our two great nations matured and deepened. Some landmark accomplishments of the past three years include:
• The Millennium Challenge Corp. in 2010 signed a $434-million (P18-billion) compact with the Philippines, to reduce poverty and promote economic growth.
• In 2011, we celebrated the 50th anniversaries of both the Peace Corps and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and their work in the Philippines. The robust presence of both organizations on these islands and their many years of shared experiences and hard work are a testament to the durable nature of our partnership. The same year, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the Philippines and, together with Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, signed the Manila Declaration honoring the 60th anniversary of our mutual defense alliance, and charting a vision for our deepening the alliance in the years to come.
• The Philippines signed a historic peace accord with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in 2012 and over the past several years has expanded its participation in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, heralding its growing influence in regional affairs.
I am particularly proud of how our two governments brought vital assistance to thousands of displaced and suffering people in the wake of Typhoon “Pablo” and other natural disasters impacting the Philippines. I said many times, and continue to say: The United States will be there for the Philippines in time of need, every time.
I left the Philippines during a time of robust economic growth and I share the confidence of Filipinos about your prosperous future. The United States has helped contribute to this growth with our strong and expanding economic relationship with the Philippines, which this year saw the first shipment of Philippine bananas to the United States, and the first shipment of US potatoes to the Philippines. Our trade relationship will continue to expand.
Looking back over the past three years, I have seen an increased respect for human rights, better policies and better interagency coordination in the fight against human trafficking, important successes of the Armed Forces of the Philippines against transnational terrorists threatening a lasting peace in the southern Philippines, and an improving education system. Filipinos’ approaches to these issues, from both government and civil society, show a maturity and strength of commitment that is a model for the region. Of course, until difficult issues like human trafficking and cybercrime are completely eliminated, we can always find ways to improve. But the Philippines has taken up the challenge, and is making a difference, and the United States is proud to have supported your efforts.
I leave all my Philippine friends with this thought: The United States is your democratic partner and steadfast friend; we will always support your progress. Our two nations will always have a strong relationship founded on the deep and unbreakable bonds between our two peoples.
On a personal level, I learned the importance of relationships in Philippine culture. Many of the relationships that I and other US diplomats built in the Philippines began as diplomatic and professional ties, but ended up as lifelong friendships. I close by asking you to be as caring and welcoming to our next ambassador as you have been to me. I know that Ambassador Philip Goldberg will grow to love the Philippines as quickly as I did. And I am confident that his tenure will witness continued success for the Philippines and even stronger Filipino-American relations.
Hanggang sa muli, paalam!
After three years of service, Ambassador Harry K. Thomas Jr. has departed the Philippines for the United States. He will be relocating to Phoenix, Arizona, to serve as the US State Department’s diplomat in residence at Arizona State University.