Briefing on Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's Upcoming Trip to the Philippines

Special Briefing
Joseph Yun
Director of Maritime Southeast Asia 
Susan Reichle, USAID Acting Administrator for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance; Alan Dwyer, USAID Foreign Disaster Assistance Principal Regional Advisor for East Asia Pacific; and Rick Scott, USAID East Asia Director
Washington, DC
November 10, 2009

MR. TONER: Good morning. We’re very fortunate to have with us Joe Yun this morning from the Director of Maritime Southeast Asia; Susan Reichle, USAID’s Acting Administrator for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance; Alan Dwyer, USAID’s Foreign Disaster Assistance Principal Regional Advisor for East Asia Pacific; and Rick Scott, USAID’s East Asia Director, who are here with us today to preview the Secretary’s upcoming trip to the Philippines, although she’s actually en route, and to talk about humanitarian assistance in the wake of several recent natural disasters.


I’ll hand it off to you, Joe, and just to give an overview.


MR. YUN: Thank you very much, Mark, and good morning, everyone. Very happy to be here. Before I turn the floor to my USAID colleague, I just wanted to go over very quickly with you the Secretary’s trip to Manila and what she will do there, and put that little bit in context of her overall trip to Asia.


As you know, she will be there in the Philippines November 12th to 13th, and her stop before the Philippines is Singapore, and her stop after the Philippines is Singapore. In Singapore, of course, she will be doing the APEC ministerials from November 10th to 12th, and from after Manila, again in Singapore, she will be doing – helping President Obama with the APEC leaders meeting, which will be November 13th to 14th.


Let me talk a little bit about her trip to Manila. As you know, the Philippines is one of our oldest treaty allies. This is the first visit by a U.S. Secretary of State since 2002, and that was when Secretary Powell was in Manila. With this visit, she will have been to all four treaty allies in East Asia, and those would be Japan, South Korea, Thailand, and of course, the Philippines. I think this is, if my memory is right, probably the first time a Secretary of State has been to four of our Asian treaty allies in a first year in office.


In the Philippines, she will meet – the Secretary will meet with senior government officials, and they will include, of course, Foreign Minister Romulo and President Arroyo. And I expect a lot of discussions will center around relief, disaster relief assistance, which my colleagues will go over with you, as well as number of bilateral and regional issues.


We’re very appreciative, especially in the region, of Manila’s role. Philippines is our dialogue partner for ASEAN, and later this week, actually on Sunday, there will be the first ever U.S.-ASEAN summit meeting. We call it leaders meeting. And the Filipinos were instrumental in organizing this meeting.


And just as an example of the heightened, I would say, much more emphasis on Southeast Asia as a whole, I would note that we will have a ambassador to ASEAN probably sometime next year, and he’ll be based in Jakarta, where the ASEAN Secretariat is. And as an example of the elevation we put on our overall relations with ASEAN and Southeast Asia, this really – this is the Secretary’s third visit to Southeast Asia this year. I think in February she was in Jakarta and Singapore, and a few months ago she was in Bangkok, and now of course, she’s going to Singapore and Manila.


And with the Philippines alone, we’ve had a number of visits. Defense Secretary Gates was there in June. Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack was there in October. And of course, earlier this year, President Arroyo was in Washington. So I think all that testifies to the kind of emphasis the Department as well as the U.S. Government is putting on Southeast Asia.


So let me end my formal remarks there and turn it over to Rick, and then maybe afterwards we can come back to some questions. Okay.


MR. SCOTT: Thanks, Joe. And thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk a little bit about what USAID does in the Philippines overall, which our friends from the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance will put what they do within that context.


As Joe said, the Philippines is a longstanding ally, a U.S. ally, and it is Southeast Asia’s oldest democracy. We have been partners in development since after the Second World War in 1946. Today, our assistance partnership writ large with the government supports U.S. foreign policy interests by promoting and deepening cooperation on security, trade and investment, education, and global environment and health issues.


Development challenges in the Philippines continue to be substantial, but the Government of the Philippines has shown a real interest in having a better future, a positive future for the people of the Philippines. It developed its medium-term development plan for 2004 to 2010, and it listed in that plan several areas for the development of the Filipinos, including job creation, education, fiscal strengthening, local development, and economic progress outside Manila.


We work in partnership with the Government of the Philippines to support progress in all of these areas, and I’m going to talk just a little bit in broad strokes about some of the things that we do. We fund projects that improve the ability of the private sector to create new jobs. This includes strengthening the policy environment to make it easier for businesses to operate, offering credit to micro and small enterprises, working to increase agricultural productivity, improving economic infrastructure, and training youth so that they’re more employable. In fact, we have worked – one example is we have provided training in a lot of different kind of skills to 100,000 out-of-school youth in areas of the country most affected by poverty and conflict. We’ve also funded over 800 small-scale infrastructure projects – small roads, small bridges, ports, rehabilitation and so on. This improves the ability of small businesses to market their goods and farmers to get their agriculture produce to market as well.


We fund projects in governance and rule of law. We work with the Government of the Philippines on anticorruption measures. Projects in governance and rule of law focus on judicial reform, public financial management reform, revenue management, public administration, and court reform. And we assist Philippine Government agencies that deal with anticorruption, but we also are an example of how to manage projects. Our projects are really well-audited, and we’re examples of how to manage projects straightforward with transparency and with results.


Another area where we work is education. We focus on improving access to and the quality of education for children and youth. We fund improvement in basic education for girls and boys, and we find – which is really a great thing – we find that girls are really taking advantage of things that we have to offer in conjunction with the Philippine Government. And they’re staying in school and getting trained to take place in the workforce when they graduate.


So a big priority we have in education is decreasing the dropout rate for school-age boys. So we fund projects that enhance the quality of instruction by training instructors on how to use computers to enhance the curriculum and expanding computers and internet to schools around the country. In health, we work to improve the administration of health facilities, ensuring access to the poorest and disadvantaged communities. We support programs in HIV/AIDS, infectious diseases, awareness and cure, and we support the training of local community health workers.


And, as with the education sector, we work closely with the private sector, enabling them to market health products and commodities, and to increase the contribution of private practitioners in promoting family health in low-income communities. Private practitioners, for example, have given their time on the weekends and days when they’re not working on HIV/AIDS awareness and training, avian flu awareness, and things of that matter or things of that ilk.


We also work in the environment. We work on biodiversity conservation, improving traditional and local capacity to manage key natural resources. Over a thousand miles – square miles – of forest and coastal areas are better protected as a result of USAID’s effort to improve natural resource management along with the government. We also fund projects to help local governments access water and sanitation, and then we train them on how to manage these water projects. And we’ve reached over 200,000 people with better water and sanitation.


And then recently, the Government of the Philippines passed a landmark climate change act. Some of it was based on the work that USAID funds in clean technology and climate change adaptation. And when natural disasters strike, USAID of course helps fund the rapid response humanitarian and relief activities, and USAID programs help the government to better prepare for the next, but inevitable in the Philippines, disaster. You’re going to hear more about that from my colleagues over here.


So in sum, we play a key role in moving the Philippines along the road to a more secure and prosperous future, and now I’ll turn it over to my colleague, Susan Reichle, who will talk to you more specifically about our response to the storms.


MS. REICHLE: Thank you. Good morning. It’s really a pleasure to be here with you today to talk a little bit about our response to the most recent disasters, and thank you, Rick and for the opening there. But before we begin on the details, we really just want to extend our deep condolences to the people in the Philippines who have really lost a tremendous amount by these three storms that have battered their country, and those that have lost loved ones in particular.


As you know, according to the Government of the Republic of Philippines, the statistics are startling. More than 10 million people have been affected by this storm. Up to a thousand people have lost their lives, 150,000 are living in shelters, have been displaced by their – from their homes, and 260,000 homes have been almost damaged or destroyed.


In the wake of not just one or two, but three storms, the U.S. Government – I’m really speaking about sort of the U.S. Government response as a whole – has been rapid and swift, working with the – our colleagues not just within the government, but also with our counterparts in order to provide that relief and recovery that is absolutely critical. USAID specifically in the wake of those – the storms has provided up to 5.7 million in emergency relief with already 3.8 million having been provided to date. This assistance includes procurement, transport, distribution of emergency materials, as well as water, sanitation and hygiene, the transport of emergency materials out of Dubai. We prepositioned materials in the Dubai warehouse as well as logistics support for the humanitarian assistance that is distributed throughout the country.


Relief supplies, just as examples, include stockpiles of 340 rolls of plastic sheeting for temporary housing, which, as I mentioned, is a critical need in the wake of these storms as people have been displaced and have lost their homes. 50,000 bars of soap – critical – the hygiene issues in these devastated areas. 23,424 hygiene kits and 23,000 10-liter collapsible water containers; access to water, as we know, is one of the critical needs in a disaster.


Our partners have been absolutely essential and working hard on the ground with the Philippine National Red Cross, as well as the International Office of Migration. I’m privileged today to have one of our colleagues, Al Dwyer, who was out on the ground in the aftermath of each of these storms and can help answer some of the specific questions that you may have in response, as he worked directly with our partners. In addition to the disaster response, we also have food aid that is continually provided to the Philippines. In FY 2010, we have provided up to 720 metric tons of PL 480 Title II emergency food assistance, which is equivalent to $1.2 million, and working with our partner at the World Food Program.


Some of you may have already heard about Secretary Vilsack’s announcement, and it was mentioned earlier. On October 26th, while he was out in the Philippines, about – approximately 7,680 metric tons of food assistance valuing $8.4 million through the Food for Progress program, in cooperation with the Government of the Republic of Philippines Department of Agriculture. And this 60-day supply with benefit approximately 438,000 affected individuals.


In addition, one of the points we would like to emphasize is, again, sort of the holistic response, not only working with our Philippine partners but as well within the U.S. Government. I mentioned the USDA, but as well DOD played an essential role, particularly in the early stages on logistic support. DOD Pacific Command provided equipment transport and logistics in the frame of 10 helicopters and six Zodiac boats for search-and-rescue, which were absolutely critical in the initial days, as well as airlift supply for emergencies to be delivered to the northern Philippines and the transport of food and relief supplies.


And then finally, DOD and USAID collaborated in medical relief teams in order to basically screen and assist 9,000 patients, as well as providing dental care to 350 people. DOD flights transported more than 260 people and moved nearly 115,000 pounds of cargo, as well as conducting assessments on debris and cleared roads.


So in total, the United States Government has provided $14.2 million to assist in the aftermath of the storms to date. And as my colleagues mentioned, we continue to work with the Government of the Republic of Philippines on the stabilization of this area.


Thank you.


MR. TONER: Great. We’ll just open it up to your questions. Joe, do you want to come up? And just please introduce yourselves and tell us your outlet.


MR. YUN: If this is a tough one it will be for my colleagues. (Laughter.)


QUESTION: I just have a quick question. I’m Andy from Reuters. Can you tell us, with the Secretary’s trip there, what element the security relationship will play in her talks with the Philippine leaderships? What is the status of American involvement in the southern Philippines? And what are some issues – is there anything she’s pressing for for more action there?


MR. YUN: I think there are two aspects of security relationship that she will want to discuss. One is the kind of thing we talked about, DOD and USAID working together. I would put that in the kind of basket of civil-military cooperation. And in fact, we do want to emphasize that especially in these cases where there are natural disasters, there is a lot of room for civil-military cooperation, and Philippines was just a case in point. It was quite lucky, actually, because just as we were – the storms were hitting, we were having a bilateral exercise between the Philippines and the U.S., and so we had a lot of Pacific Command assets in place. And I mean, we hold regular exercise with the Philippines, and a lot of them have to do with this kind of emergency.


Second issue that relates to that is, of course, the presence of our troops in Mindanao. We have some few hundred of them there, and there are two points I want to emphasize there. Number one, they are there at the invitations of the Philippines Government. Number two, their role is not to combat, but advise and work with the Philippines Government to fight terrorists, specifically the Abu Sayyaf group and also JI. So recently, we’ve had two people die in Jolo along with one Filipino. So terrorism threat down in Mindanao area is real, and I’m sure she will want to discuss with the Filipino leadership concerning how we go about that.


QUESTION: Is there – just as a follow-on, is there anything specifically that the United States is going to ask of them to – are there places where they feel that could be improved, what they’re doing in southern Philippines? Are the – is the Secretary satisfied with the way things are going?


MR. YUN: I think there are a lot of issues to discuss. There are a lot of issues to discuss there, and I think I’ll probably prefer to leave it at that, not get into to specific areas of those discussions.




QUESTION: I want to ask if given the experience in – this is probably better directed to your AID colleagues. But given the experience this time around dealing with the three storms and the magnitude, if you can comment on any lessons learned this time around that maybe – like you said, you had assets in place this time that maybe wouldn’t be the case the next time.


MR. YUN: Sue.


MS. REICHLE: Thank you. And it’s actually something that applies not just in the situation where you have three storms. One of the lessons learned that we have from really around the world is really prepositioning supplies. And so we are trying to do this around the world. And as was mentioned, we had the good fortune that actually there was an exercise that was taking place in that theater, in that region, and so we were able to access and really coordinate closely with DOD on the ground.


I think one of the things that, as you are probably aware of, the QDDR process, the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review that’s going on right now, these are some of the issues that we’re looking at – how do we take these opportunities when things work well? For example, prepositioning resources is something we learned a while ago and we’re doing as a standard of matter, but how do we take advantage of situations of DOD and USAID collaboration to make sure that we can have as great of an impact on the ground? So that’s just one example.


Thank you.


MR. YUN: Maybe if I can add to that comment, I think in Philippines we have what’s known as Visiting Forces Agreement, VFA. That made it a lot easier for the military, for example, to deploy assets. So for us, anything that can be done before the disasters – and we’ve had comments saying that they’re going to happen again. Yes, they’re going to happen again. So that kind of preparation is very important. And in that context, we’re looking at some, perhaps, multilateral agreement with ASEAN, for example. So these are all a work in progress that I hope will make some advance because of these disasters.




QUESTION: Can you just go into why the Visiting Forces Agreement helped? You said it made it easier to deploy.


MR. YUN: Yes. I mean, because for example, we’re going to have ships there, then we’re going to have sailors there, we’re going to have planes there, so all these landing permits, ability to – for military soldiers and sailors to work there for port permits and all those things. I mean, if you have Visiting Forces Agreement, they will already be in place. I think that’s why it’s important for the military to know that they can leave immediately and there’s no problem with landing permits, overflight issues, and so on.


QUESTION: I’m just wondering if, possibly, we could hear from Mr. Dwyer just for a perspective on the ground, on what he might have seen.


MR. DWYER: Yeah. I think this was – it was interesting; three storms, and that’s important. Initially, a lot of need for what we call non-food items. A lot of these homes and a lot of the population is poor, the disadvantaged. Floods had taken away most of what they own. We came in with a lot of blankets, cooking sets, hygiene kits, some of the basic stuff. That repeated itself actually three times.


I think the situation now is stabilizing. We’re involved with a lot more of what we call water and sanitation watch interventions, where – provisional latrines, access to clean water, a lot of hygiene promotion. It’s a good opportunity to pass a lot of messages around the community. We’ll be looking at early recovery activities as well.


So I’d characterize it now as stabilizing. And – but, again, we’ve still got about another month and a half of storm season out there, and we’ll keep an eye on it.


MR. TONER: Any more questions? Great. Thank you very much.

PRN: 2009/1124