Last September 14, 2017 (Thursday), United States Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Y. Kim visited the University of Santo Tomas and interacted with UST’s student leaders at the Dr. Robert C. Sy Grand Ballroom of the Blessed Buenaventura G. Paredes, O.P. Building. The theme of the discussion, held in a town-hall format, was the state of Philippine-US relations.

During the interaction, Ambassador Kim was asked about the United States in relation to climate change, immigration, the West Philippine Sea, the rise of China as a global power, the Philippines’s attempt at an independent foreign policy, the anti-drug campaign, and his work in foreign service.

Climate change
In answering the question on climate change, Kim said that despite the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Climate Change Agreement, efforts to reduce its carbon footprint remained in force. He said that US scientists have remained steadfast in their campaign to address the issues. “The strong partnership we have with the Philippines can likewise help here, because we have very good academic and scientific ties. Our researches can help address this,” Kim said.

The US Ambassador cited that aid to the Philippines over the last five years reached 65 billion pesos, and a lot of the funding went to scientific research projects and collaborations, which looked into climate change issues.

Immigration policies
When asked about President Trump’s new immigration policies, Kim allayed fears by stating that first, on their level in the US Embassy in the Philippines, no change has been seen in the processes and the volume of visa applications they handle, as the United States “wants more and more Filipinos to come over, whether for travel, for study, for work, and even immigration.”

Kim likewise said that the new policies were geared more toward implementing “existing laws and regulations.” “This is not really new. We are simply enforcing existing laws to protect the homeland from external threats” for the safety of both citizens and foreign guests.

West Philippine Sea and China
Kim emphasized that the United States is a non-claimant state to the West Philippine Sea, and repeated his country’s call for adherence to the rule of law and the use of peaceful means to solve disputes. He likewise emphasized that “claimant countries should not do unilateral actions that will disrupt the status quo.”

China as a global power
“We never had a problem with China being a global power, nor have we had a problem with the Philippines aiming for better relations with China,” said Kim. The US Ambassador said that the economic forecasts have proven true, that there is so much potential for growth in the Asia-Pacific, and it is to the world’s benefit if this growth will be harnessed through positive and cordial relations.

Relations with the Philippines
The United States Ambassador acknowledged that in the long history of relations between the US and the Philippines, painful chapters that remain to cause resentment are undeniable. “But if you look at what we have achieved over the last decades, it’s impressive. The Philippines remains to be one of our closest allies in the world, and our oldest military ally in the world.

Kim cited that the largest private foreign employer in the Philippines is from the United States: Convergys. He likewise said that the largest private foreign exporter in the Philippines is from the United States: Texas Instruments. “Those two facts alone show how good our ties have been,” the ambassador said.

In the realm of education, Kim said that the oldest, continuing foreign agency for the Fulbright scholarship is located in the Philippines: the Philippine-American Educational Foundation. During the town-hall, Liam White of the College of Nursing likewise interacted with the ambassador, being a member of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI).

Philippine government
Kim said that diplomacy is hinged primarily on government-to-government work, and there are many programs of the Duterte administration that the United States supports. “The anti-drug campaign is commendable in its intent, and I made that very clear to President Duterte when I first met him. I also made clear to him, though, that we have some reservations about some aspects of the implementation, particularly on the issue of human rights. We remain firm that such efforts must be in accordance with internationally accepted norms.”

The continued military alliance was likewise mentioned by the US Ambassador, citing the Marawi siege as a recent example. “We have made available 730-million pesos worth of assistance for Marawi. Our existing agreements like the Mutual Defense Treaty and the Visiting Forces Agreement likewise help us continue our joint military exercises with our friends in the Philippine military.”

The US Ambassador cited that the military alliance covers a wide array of aspects: from equipment and weaponry, to intelligence, training, and post-combat assistance and relief.

Life as an ambassador
Kim, a Seoul, South Korea native who was educated in the United States, began as a prosecutor in the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office. “I always had a calling for public service, and after many happy years as a lawyer, I became interested in the challenge of foreign service and diplomacy.”

This career in diplomacy saw him get posted in Japan, the Korean Peninsula, and the Philippines. “I always joke that I choose my assignments based on food, because I love Asian food,” said the ambassador in jest, to the delight of the crowd.

Kim said that students interested in public service need to remember that it is not about making money. He likewise called on the young to help chart the future. “Governments cannot do it alone. We are here to serve you, but we need your help to help build a better world for everyone.”

Prior to the town-hall meeting, the US Ambassador was received by the top University leadership, led by the Very Rev. Fr. Herminio V. Dagohoy, O.P., PhD (Rector). The Rector was joined by the University Vice-Rector, Fr. Richard G. Ang, O.P., PhD; Vice-Rector for Finance Fr. Rolando M. Castro, O.P., SThL; Vice-Rector for Religious Affairs Fr. Pablo T. Tiong, O.P.; Vice-Rector for Academic Affairs Cheryl R. Peralta, DrPH; Vice-Rector for Research and Innovation Maribel G. Nonato, PhD; and Secretary-General Fr. Jesus M. Miranda, Jr., O.P., PhD.