Remarks With Philippines Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo
Secretary of State
Welcome, Madame Secretary. Our long history as friends and allies is deeply rooted in our commitment to freedom and democracy. We fought and shed blood together in the foxholes of Bataan and Corregidor 67 years ago. And we are determined to deepen and broaden our partnership, and to work together in facing today’s challenges. When Typhoon Ketsana in Burma battered our cities and towns, among the first to come to our assistance was the United States – in personnel, in resources, in equipment, in helicopters, in soldier boats, bulldozers, you name it, forklifts.
In my area where I live, the first to rescue survivors were the U.S. Navy in the soldier boat. We are therefore honored to have the opportunity to personally express our deep gratitude to Secretary Clinton for the timely and substantial assistance given by the U.S. Government during our recent natural disasters. As Secretary Clinton has just said, she is now visiting us to show solidarity with our friends in the Philippines who have been battered and have suffered so much. Thank you, Madame Secretary.
I’ll now ask the Secretary to (inaudible).
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, Secretary Romulo. I’m so pleased to be here, and I thank you for your warm welcome and the productive discussion that we had today with a number of the leaders of this government. It is always a pleasure for me to be part of something that is so positive as the reaffirmation of our broad and deep relationship, going back so many years together. And certainly, on a personal note, I am delighted to be back in the Philippines. I have very fond memories of my previous visits, and the warmth and generosity of the Filipino people is something that I am deeply grateful for.
I was saddened, as so many were in my country, over the loss of life in the recent storms and the flooding, and I want again to convey the sympathies of President Obama, of the Obama Administration and of the United States to the people of the Philippines. You have shown great resolve and resilience in the face of these calamities. I am proud that the United States has been your partner.
As the Secretary said, we were very pleased that we could respond quickly with our military assets. Filipino and American doctors worked side by side to help thousands of flood victims. We saw our military forces working together to airlift thousands of tons of food, equipment, and other vital cargo. Later today, I will visit a school that was damaged by the flooding, and I look forward to talking with the teachers and the students about what more the United States can do to help.
This cooperation is yet more evidence of the long friendship and broad partnership between the United States and the Philippines. As treaty allies, we are working to meet the challenges and seize the opportunities of the 21st century. And I want to commend the Government of the Philippines, which is taking on an increasingly important leadership role in ASEAN, in APEC, across the Pacific region, and globally on issues such as nonproliferation, where the Philippines will be the chair of the Nonproliferation Treaty conference that will be held next year.
And we particularly are grateful for the Philippines’ work as our ASEAN dialogue partner. From a global recession and climate change, to the threats of violent extremism, our nations face shared challenges that demand shared solutions. We have a common commitment to advancing democratic values and human rights in the region, including in Burma. Today, the foreign secretary and I discussed how we can move forward on this comprehensive agenda together.
Of course, our two nations are linked by more than treaty. We have bonds of culture and commerce, we have shared histories and common hopes. The cemeteries here are filled with those who paid the ultimate sacrifice from both of our nations, who fought for freedom in the Pacific. Their memories continue to inspire our alliance, as do the values that they gave their lives to defend. And I am personally very pleased that an injustice has finally been corrected with the passage of the assistance for Filipino veterans who served side by side with our United States military forces.
I am also very proud that we have such a large, vibrant, active Filipino American community in the United States, and we want to do even more to demonstrate the connections between Filipino Americans and those here in the Philippines. Organizations such as Feed The Hungry have sent money and food to those most in need, and we look to making sure that those connections are even stronger.
So, sir, we talked about a lot today. We have a great opportunity to continue our work together, and I am confident that we can make the future even better than the present or the past. Thank you very much.
FOREIGN SECRETARY ROMULO: Of course.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much, Secretary Clinton. Thank you very much, Secretary Romulo. The first question will be raised by a member of the DFA press corps, Mr. (inaudible).
QUESTION: Good afternoon, Secretary Clinton. Welcome to the Philippines. This is our question: Will the U.S. forces continue helping Philippine troops in pursuing the Abu Sayyaf militants, considering that the Philippine Government is (inaudible) over the VFA? And what specific role does Washington want to play in the Mindanao peace process?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, let me say that the United States is committed to a strong partnership and alliance with the Philippines, and I am here today to reaffirm that commitment. The Visiting Forces Agreement is an important expression of our partnership. It is based on mutual respect and mutual interest. And our service members, as we have seen in these last natural disasters, are ready to provide assistance where it is asked for, and to work side by side with the military of the Philippines. I am proud of what our service members have done in helping to respond to the devastating storms and the floods.
With respect to the peace process, the United States supports the ongoing efforts of the Government of the Philippines to bring a comprehensive peace. People have been seeking such a peace, and I want the Philippines to know that the international community, including the United States, stands ready to assist. But this is ultimately up to the people of the Philippines and to your government leadership. We’re encouraged by the ceasefire, and the report that I received today about the negotiating efforts is very promising.
So we will wish the very best to those who are attempting to bring an end to the conflict and will support you in any way that is appropriate.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much, ma’am. The second question will be asked by a member of the U.S. (inaudible) media.
QUESTION: Secretary Romulo, Secretary Clinton, (inaudible) for both of you. What can you tell us about the future of the U.S. advisory force in southern Philippines? Is it time to begin reducing its numbers so that the troops can be deployed in Afghanistan and elsewhere?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, let me say that I don’t discuss military decisions. That is more appropriately worked out between our governments and our militaries. But I will just reiterate that the United States stands ready to assist our friends in the Philippines who are seeking to counter terrorism and the threat of extremism, and we will be willing to support them in any way that is appropriate that they request. But the relationship between our countries and between our militaries is very strong and cooperative, and we look forward to continuing that.
FOREIGN SECRETARY ROMULO: Let me state that under the VFA, the United States forces are here to assist, advise, and train. It’s limited to that. As far as combat matters are concerned, that’s purely Filipino.
But on the other hand, in addition to the assisting, training, and advising, there is also the social-civic, as well as the humanitarian aspect of the undertaking. And the humanitarian aspect came out into the fore in the recent Ketsana, in part, where U.S. personnel were able to deploy not only personnel – I think there were about 2,600 – but also equipment, helicopters, soldier boats, forklift, bulldozers, and other things, and immediately assist our people.
And let me say that in my particular city, the one who left with the first search and rescue were U.S. Navy personnel with a soldier boat. So this is the other aspect. So between the two – the socioeconomic and the humanitarian, as well as the supporting, advising, and training – I think it has worked very well for us.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. The third question will be asked by Mr. Howie Severino of GMA-7.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, good afternoon. Welcome to the Philippines.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.
QUESTION: Ma’am, you were quoted at the Planned Parenthood national conference several months ago that, quote, “Reproductive rights will be a key to the foreign policy of the Obama Administration.” How will this principle be applied in the Philippines, especially considering the widely known opposition to artificial contraceptives here?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, of course, as with any policy, we work with our partners and our allies, and it is up to the people and the Government of the Philippines to accept any assistance that we might be willing to offer. So I know that this is a matter of concern in society here in the Philippines, and I respect that, and we certainly do not have any intention or plan to preempt or otherwise go beyond or around what the attitudes of society are.
On a personal note, I would only add that I believe strongly that family planning is an important aspect of development. And I’ve seen this around the world, and I think empowering women to be able to make choices that are in the best interests of the children they already have and the family size that they desire increases educational outcomes, it increases income generations, it provides a much stronger basis for human development.
And so the reason I said what I said, which you quoted from, is we have a lot of experience now that trying to empower and educate women so that they are able to make these decisions and they have access to family planning is not only a positive for the woman and her family, but for the larger society. And I think that is the other point that I would make, but again, I would reiterate all of these decisions are certainly up to the people and the Government of the Philippines.
MODERATOR: The fourth question will come from Mr. Matt Lee of the Associated Press.
QUESTION: My apologies, Mr. Secretary. As so often happens on these trips, there are developments from outside of the host country that the traveling press’s wires are asking a question on. (Laughter.) So with that –
SECRETARY CLINTON: They never apologize to me, sir. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: With that, Madame Secretary --
SECRETARY CLINTON: You’re having a very good influence on our American press.
QUESTION: As you know, Madame Secretary, Ambassador Eikenberry has expressed some deep concerns and reservations about a buildup – a large buildup of troops in Afghanistan, given the concerns about corruption in President Karzai’s government. I know that the President has not yet made his decision on how to go forward and that you are loathe to offer your advice to us before you give it to him, but I’m wondering if you could talk: one, about those concerns about corruption more broadly; and two, about whether those concerns should play a role in the determination of exactly how the U.S. goes forward in Afghanistan. Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Matt, let me make very clear that I continue to be loathe to share any of the advice that the President has received in the course of his review. I think it has been an extremely thorough and thoughtful process, and I will continue to honor the right of the President to hear from any of his government members or those outside of government, and to then add that to the process of his decision making.
But on the separate question with respect to corruption, lack of transparency, poor governance, absence of the rule of law, the concerns that have been expressed not only by the United States but by others, including Prime Minister Gordon Brown and many of our allies, are ones that I share. The Government of Afghanistan has to accept greater responsibility for its own defense by participating in the training and deployment of an effective, professional security force. It has to do more to respond to the legitimate needs of the people of Afghanistan to deliver services – not just security, but education and health, the kinds of services that the people of any country should expect from their government.
And we’re looking to President Karzai, as he forms a new government, to take action that will demonstrate, not to the international community, but first and foremost to his own people, that his second term will respond to the needs that are so manifest. And I think that the corruption issue really goes to the heart of whether the people of Afghanistan feel that the government is on their side, is working for them. Corruption is corrosive in any society. When leaders enrich themselves at the expense of their people, when they put their own fortunes ahead of the fortune of their people, it has a very unfortunate impact: People don’t trust the government, they don’t rely on the government, they can’t imagine a better life for themselves, because they don’t think their leaders are working to obtain that for them.
And so we are concerned and we have expressed those concerns, and we’re looking for measures of accountability and transparency that will demonstrate a clear commitment to the kind of governance and outcomes that the people of Afghanistan deserve to see from their government, and that the international community should be able to look to as we move forward in our efforts to try to rid Afghanistan of the terrorists that not only affect their lives, but pose a threat to us and to people around the world.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, take it out of the review because, again, I don’t want to get into the review. That’s the President’s prerogative. But of course, we’re looking at it. We look at it every day in the State Department. If we’re going to be providing development assistance, we want to be sure it gets to where it’s intended. I have, as you probably know, required that we look at every single contract that goes into Afghanistan, that we do an in-depth review to try to determine is it producing the results that we expect, is the money actually improving the lives of the people of Afghanistan or not. So even before the review, we were taking a hard look at how business is conducted inside Afghanistan.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much, ma’am. And for our last question – and I’m sure a lot of you have questions to ask – we have Ms. Dana Batnag of Jiji press.
QUESTION: Good afternoon, ma’am. There is a scheduled meeting on Saturday in Singapore between the U.S. and Burma. Will you be the one leading the U.S. delegation? What is the U.S. strategic interests in Myanmar? And is the participation of Aung San Suu Kyi in the election next year necessary to make it credible?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first of all, there is not a meeting. There may very well be the opportunity for our leaders, including myself, including the President, to meet the leaders of Burma – something that we have not done before. But we just recently concluded a very successful visit by Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell and Deputy Assistant Secretary Scot Marciel, who is with me, to Burma, where they met at length with not only government officials, but more importantly, in an unmonitored setting with Aung San Suu Kyi, with members of her party, with others who represent opposition voices and concerns, with representatives of ethnic minorities that are worried about their treatment at the hands of the current government.
And we have made it very clear we are not lifting sanctions on Burma, but we are trying to encourage Burma to conduct the kind of internal dialogue with all of the stakeholders, including Aung San Suu Kyi, that could lead to there being fair, free, and credible elections next year. We think that is an essential first step. We are continuing to call for the freedom of Aung San Suu Kyi. We believe that her detention over so many years is baseless and not founded on any concern other than that she is a leader of the political opposition.
So I don’t want to prejudge what the Burmese people themselves, if given the chance, might decide for themselves. But I will underscore our skepticism about an election that does not include all of the people or their representatives who are in opposition. It’s up to the individuals to decide who runs and who doesn’t run, but there should be no doubt that the United States wants to see an open, free, credible election process. And that’s what we’re calling on from the leadership of Burma, but we don’t believe that we can cause that to happen from the outside.
What we want to do, along with friends like the Philippines and other ASEAN members, is to encourage, urge, persuade the leadership of Burma to enter into this dialogue with their own people, to create the conditions for legitimacy that should be apparent when you have an election. And that’s what we’re looking to achieve.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much, ma’am.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) I was just wondering if there is a plan to release Suu Kyi so she would be able to participate or prepare for the coming – for next year’s election. Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, if we were in charge of the plan, that would be the plan, because we think she should be released. We don’t think she should be in detention. We believe that she has every right, as any person should have, and certainly that she has demonstrated over the years a commitment to democracy, to participate in the active democratic life of her country as she chooses, not as the United States chooses and not as the Burmese leadership chooses, but as she chooses.
So we’re going to continue to call for her unconditional release, and we want to see this kind of dialogue among all of the various parties within the country, and then they should determine how to go forward. It shouldn’t be up to us to determine that. So we want to create the process that would result in a free, fair, and credible election, so that whoever wished to participate or chose to participate would be able to do so, the results would be legitimate in the eyes of the world. That is what we are hoping for the Burmese people.
MODERATOR: Okay. Thank you very much. May we request, Secretary Romulo, for a final few words, if he so wishes?
FOREIGN SECRETARY ROMULO: Well, I’d like to thank, first of all, the Secretary of State for being with us today. We have had a very fruitful and productive meeting. And I’d like to thank the members of the press, both the foreign press and the local press, for the questions, which I think brought forth productive answers. And I hope that the Secretary will have a pleasant stay here in the Philippines, because as I said, the Filipinos love her. I told her that there are Hillary fans and fanatics here, and therefore we are most happy that she is here with us. Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much, Secretary Romulo. Thank you very much, Secretary Clinton. That concludes our press conference.