US Vice President Kamala Harris, the first Asian-American to hold the second highest seat in the US, is coming to the Philippines this Sunday for a three-day visit.
During her visit, she will go to Palawan — the island province nearest the disputed West Philippines — in an attempt to demonstrate US’ continued commitment to stand by with their oldest defense ally in the region amidst security threats from China’s island-building spree in the disputed territory.
1st Asian leg: Apec Summit Bangkok
A senior US administration official said Harris will head first to Bangkok, Thailand to represent US President Joe Biden at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Summit tomorrow (November 17). President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. is also attending the Apec Summit, along with more than 10 other world leaders from the Asia-Pacific regions.
From Bangkok, Vice President Harris will fly to Manila Sunday night.
Manila leg: Duterte, PBBM
On Monday, she will meet her Philippine counterpart first — Vice President Sara Duterte. Then she will proceed to Malacañang for a “longer bilateral meeting” with President
“The focus (of the meeting) with President Marcos will be twofold: strengthening our security alliance and economic relationship.
“On security, the Vice President will reaffirm our defense commitments to the Philippines and the importance of our alliance in peace and stability in the South China Sea. They will discuss upholding international rules and norms. The Vice President will also commit to work more closely with the Philippines to strengthen our economic partnership and investment ties. We anticipate there will be deliverables and new initiatives on this front, as well, related to the digital economy and and accelerating the transition to clean energy,” a senior US administration official told State Department reporters in a meeting.
Meeting with activists, young Filipino women
“Civil society activists” will also get a chance to meet her to show US “continued commitment to support ‘human rights and democratic resilience.'”
Harris’ parents were activists and this inspired her to enter into public service. As a district attorney in Alameda county, California, in 1990 she prosecuted child sexual assault cases.
Aside from meeting civil society activists, Harris will also participate in a moderated conversation, or town hall, with young Filipino women.
“As she does all around the world, the Vice President prioritizes lifting up the voices of women and advocating for their economic empowerment and civic participation. This will be the first event of its kind she has done overseas since taking office, and it’ll be a good opportunity for direct engagement with the Filipino people, underscoring the strong people-to-people ties with the Philippines and historic ties,” the official said.
Palawan leg: Focus on West Philippine Sea
Then on Tuesday, Harris will fly to Puerto Princesa, Palawan to meet residents, civil society leaders and representatives of the Philippine Coast Guard which has been the lead enforcement unit safeguarding the West Philippine Sea.
“This is another historic visit, as the Vice President is the highest-ranking U.S. official ever to visit Palawan,” the US official stressed.
Harris’ visit to Palawan “demonstrates the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to stand with our Philippine ally in upholding the rules-based international maritime order in the South China Sea, supporting maritime livelihoods, and countering illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing.”
She will deliver a remarks during her engagement with Philippine Coast Guard.
Her remarks will underscore international law, unimpeded commerce, freedom of navigation in the West Philippine Sea.
The Vice President has been pitching for maritime security and maritime cooperation in southeast Asia.
During her last meeting with leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in Washington DC last May, she launched a US$60-million initiative that would provide training and equipment to coast guards in the region. The Philippine Coast Guard is one of the beneficiaries of this initiative.
“In her engagement with the Philippines Coast Guard… she will see firsthand the outcomes of this partnership and discuss how to strengthen it even further with new funding and initiatives,” the official added.
“Real talk” with Palaweños
She will also engage with residents of Palawan to ask them how impacts of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is affecting their coastal economies and livelihoods.
Let me also note that the Vice President feels very strongly about getting outside of government buildings and engaging directly with people who often don’t get to interact with high-ranking U.S. officials,” the official added. “It’s a prime example of the way the Vice President seeks to engage on the world stage.”
File photo credit White House