by Don Tagala, ABS-CBN News
NEW YORK — Philippine Senator Alan Peter Cayetano is in the US on a mission: to rebuild and repair the somewhat strained Philippine – US relations.
“I’m here to communicate to our friends in the US Congress,” said Cayetano. “I got the privilege to quickly meet and greet, and get an introduction to the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and communicate the message.”
His message to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson: the Philippines is open for business with the US.
“I congratulated him in his appointment, in his confirmation as secretary of state, reiterated the invitation to president trump to come to the Philippines ASEAN,” Cayetano said. “I also reiterated my personal gratitude that the phone call between President Duterte and President Trump was very productive and maganda napag-usapan…”
Cayetano, who is here to help push the Philippine-US relationship forward, also attended the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC, and met with some members of the US congress.
“We’d like people to start seeing the Philippines from their own eyes, rather from reports or from certain groups who see things from their eyes,” he said.
But in order to move the Philippine-US relationship forward — the biggest question is who will be named the Philippine Ambassador to the US.
The position has been vacant since Ambassador Jose Cuisia Jr. left the position last year.
“My answer is, I don’t know,” Cayetano said. “I consciously am not involved in the selection process in the US Ambassador, because I want to give the present secretary and the President the free-hand, and don’t want to my voice to influence one way or the other.”
In a town-hall meeting with Filipinos in New York, Cayetano clarified the Philippines’ relationship dynamics with the US.
“We want a relationship with you,” he said, “but your relationship with us has nothing to do with our relationship with the Chinese, with the Russians, with the Vietnamese, with the Thais — and if you try to tell us how to have a relationship with them, our relationship with you will be affected. So translate that: they stop our funding for the Millennium Challenge Corporation…”
The $430 million MCC (Millennium Challenge Corporation) grant was not renewed because of significant human rights concerns in the President’s war on drugs, among other reasons.
“So if it’s an open debate, the President will say keep your money. If you’re going to dictate on me, on how I’ll run my country, you can have the $500 million anyway,” Cayetano said. “China is giving us $20 billion and Japan is giving us $8 billion.”
But the difference is, the MCC is a grant and not a loan.
While the nearly $30 billion from China and Japan are mixture of soft or concessional loans (and some grants) that would have to be repaid with some interest, Cayetano says, the benefits from the loans are much higher than the interest rates overtime.
“Personally, we don’t say no to di ba pag grasya yan, bakit hindi ang sinasabi lang natin dapat no strings attached,” he told BA seperately. “So if it’s a mere clarification on human rights, walang problema, pero kung didiktahan tayo — that goes not only for America, but for other countries as well.”
The Philippines has to demonstrate a commitment to just and democratic governance, economic freedom and investments in its people in order to receive the Millennium Challenge grant.