THE last five months of 2022 coincided with my first five months serving as US Ambassador to the Philippines — an exciting time marked by non-stop engagements that strengthened our ironclad relationship as friends, partners, and allies.
Only three weeks after I presented my credentials to newly elected President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr., Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited the Philippines. Numerous other high-level exchanges between our two countries followed. President Marcos met with President Joe Biden in New York in September. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III met with DND Officer-in-Charge Jose Faustino, Jr. twice soon thereafter, in Hawaii and in Cambodia.
Many other senior US officials met Philippine leaders from government, business, and civil society in 2022, including a 28-company trade mission from the US-ASEAN Business Council, a Congressional delegation led by Senator Ed Markey, multiple State Department officials, the Secretary of the Navy, and a constellation of Generals and Admirals from the US military. These visits culminated with Vice-President Kamala Harris’ historic trip to the Philippines in November, when, in addition to meeting with President Marcos and Vice-President Sara Duterte, she became the most senior US official ever to visit Palawan.
In my 37 years as a diplomat, I have never seen this level of bilateral engagement in such a short period of time. It is a testament to the significance of our relationship. And if what we see on the calendar for the new year is any indicator, our ties will continue to flourish in 2023.
All of us at the US Embassy are committed to strengthening the US-Philippine relationship, a cornerstone of the Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific Strategy. We are excited that the Philippines became a founding partner in the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, and we look forward to expanding our collaboration during the US APEC host year. This week, the US Embassy will highlight the rich US-Philippine economic partnership during the fifth Indo-Pacific Business Forum (IPBF), the US government’s premier annual regional event to promote trade, investment, and economic cooperation. The United States is the largest market for Philippine goods and services in the world, and the IPBF will highlight the Philippines’ role as an essential economic partner in multiple sectors. We are honored by the many Filipino leaders from government and the private sector who will join us for this event.
Later this month, officials from the US State and Defense departments will lead a senior US interagency delegation to the annual US-Philippine Bilateral Strategic Dialogue. The delegation will meet with representatives from the Departments of Foreign Affairs and National Defense, and other Philippine government partners to strategize about ways to advance cooperation in multiple fields, including energy and food security, defense, support for the judiciary, protecting the environment, and enhancing people-to-people ties.
In April, the US and Philippine militaries will begin Exercise Balikatan 23, the largest joint military exercise in the history of our Alliance. Our forces will work shoulder-to-shoulder on shared operations and tactics on land, at sea, and in the air. Philippine and US forces will also conduct multiple humanitarian and civic assistance projects during the exercise, including school renovations and health engagements with local communities. Balikatan 23 will highlight the ironclad US-Philippine Alliance as a source of strength and stability for our peoples and others in the Indo-Pacific.
This is also the year we celebrate a milestone in bilateral ties: the 75th anniversary of the Fulbright program in the Philippines, and of people-to-people exchanges between our countries. Fulbright Philippines is the oldest continuously operating Fulbright program in the world. The program was the first in a rich array of exchanges with the Philippines, including the International Visitors Leadership Program, the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, and many other programs. Thousands of Filipinos and Americans have benefitted from these exchanges and brought those benefits back to their communities. We are also excited to welcome Peace Corps volunteers back to the Philippines this year.
Every day, the US Embassy team and I strive to channel the positive momentum in US-Philippine relations to advance our shared priorities. The economic, political, security, and cultural efforts highlighted above represent just a fraction of what we expect to do in 2023. The work we do together with our Filipino friends, partners, and allies is important: the US-Philippine relationship is central to ensuring an Indo-Pacific region that is free and open, connected, prosperous, secure, and resilient.
I can’t wait to see what we can achieve together in 2023 and beyond.
Marykay Carlson is the US ambassador to the Philippines.