The current Ambassador of the United States to the Philippines Philip Goldberg was sworn in last November, 2013. Since then, Goldberg has picked up from where former Ambassador Harry Thomas, Jr. took off, and a number of notable events have already taken place such as the signing of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.
Last June 30, 2014, the ambassador paid his first visit to DLSU for a brief discussion of US-Philippine relationships. In an interview with The LaSallian following the talk, Goldberg shed light on issues both governments are working on to improve US-Philippine relations.
The LaSallian: In recent years, one of the issues that the United States has been most involved in is the combat of human trafficking in the country. Why is this a key priority, what developments have been made so far, and what else needs to and can be done about the problem?
Hon. Goldberg: Trafficking in persons is a topic that has been a major point of emphasis for US foreign policy for many years. The reason is quite simple, US foreign policy projects among its many aspects the beliefs the values and the principles of the American people and in our view, the trafficking of persons for whatever reason – the abuse of women and children for these purposes, and also forced labor – are reprehensible and are kinds of activities that the world needs to join forces to fight.
And so the United States congress decided that by law, the state department should issue a report on how various countries are doing in the fight against trafficking in persons every year. So just a few weeks ago, the most recent report was issued. In that report, it again listed three tiers of countries. The first tier consists of the countries that have tried to fight the trafficking of persons and have been able to do so effectively, through law and mostly through enforcement.
The second group of countries and the one that the Philippines falls under is Tier 2, which is a country that is making every effort it can and is trying very much to fight trafficking in persons through law, but has fallen short because it hasn’t been able to do as much as other countries. The Tier 3 countries are the ones that have fallen down completely [to combat trafficking], where there is no will to deal with the issues, and or have fallen down so much that they are in the lowest category.
I think that the Philippines takes this issue very seriously and tries its best to improve the situation. The Philippines is very much a victim also of trafficking in persons. Many people are falsely led to believe they might have a job overseas and are then forced into labor or virtual slavery in some cases.
The LaSallian: United States Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker recently led a delegation of businessmen to the Philippines for a series of meetings to discuss opportunities in trade, investments, and partnerships. What can Filipinos expect in terms of infrastructural and capital development, urban development, and poverty alleviation efforts in partnership with the US? Also, are there any particular barriers to trade and commerce that need to be addressed?
Hon. Goldberg: One of the areas that Secretary Pritzker was looking at was how we can be more active in the public-private partnerships that the Philippine government has proposed for infrastructure. That was one area where she was looking for opportunities, and tasked us with coming back and fleshing out some of those areas where US firms might have the ability to help in developing.
I mentioned during the talk that our overall economic relationship is guided by a program called the partnership for growth which is trying to align our resistance programs and policy priorities with those things that the Filipino government, the Aquino government, has identified as its priorities in terms of creating sustainable and inclusive growth.
I think what we’ve seen in the last few years is that while there’s been 7.2% growth and some tremendous advancements in various areas, a lot of it has been centered in remittances from OFWs, from the growth of call centers – so in very limited or directed sectors of the economy. The policy program that we are engaged with the Philippines is trying to broaden that so that there is more inclusive and sustainable growth.
We have an assistance program that could help the local community in a certain way to try to spread out a little bit more opportunity. That’s basically what we’re trying to do with the Philippines, we’re taking the Philippines’ lead on this.
The LaSallian: The United States is helping out in terms of development opportunities and you are offering a number of programs for educational development here in the country. On the other hand, the Philippine government has been stepping up its efforts to set the Philippine educational standards at par with international standards. The United States houses some of the best educational institutions and from that perspective, how well do you think the Philippines in terms of levelling up its educational system?
Hon. Goldberg: One key goal of the government of the Philippines at the moment is to integrate the school calendar with ASEAN to make a kind of interoperability of opportunities within the region. I think we can do much more in the area of higher education.
We have exchange programs – the famous Fulbright Program, Humphrey Fellowships, (and) some other ways for Philippine students to access American universities, but if there are a couple of hundred thousand, at least, of Chinese students compared to 3,000 students from the Philippines [vying for the same scholarship grant], the number is much smaller.
I think we can do more and, maybe, one of the areas where we could do more is to interest American universities in coming here, like partnering more with the universities here or even opening up branch campuses here. So if you can’t bring the students to the university, bring the university to the students.
The LaSallian: Not everyone gets the opportunity to be awarded US visas and majority of Filipinos are in the first place not economically capable of funding the trip to the United States. That given, how do you think can our everyday Filipinos be more active in fostering socio-cultural ties with the US or with Americans?
Hon. Goldberg: Well, first, let me just say about the visa process. I’ll ask you a question just out of curiosity because I do my own polls. Of the people who apply to get a non-immigrant visa to the United States, what percentage would you say are grated those visas and how many are rejected?
The LaSallian: 20 percent?
Hon. Goldberg: Are given the visas?
The LaSallian: Yes?
Hon. Goldberg: It’s exactly the opposite. It’s 80 percent get them and 20 percent are rejected, so I’m not saying that everyone should apply because that’s not the idea, but there is a kind of urban myth that it’s the other way around, so I think people need to keep that in mind. I would admit part of that is because of the number of seafarer visas which are also non-immigrant visas, but more people are awarded with visas.
I also think that when people apply for visas, they should keep the following in mind. You have to have established roots in the Philippines: a job, a house, a family, things that you’ll return to and you’ll need to be able to demonstrably show all of that to get a non-immigrant visa.
As for what people can do to be more involved if they’re interested with the United States, there are all kinds of fraternal organizations in the Philippines that have an American connection, an American history. I talked to young business leaders the other week called the Junior Chamber of Commerce International which very much has its roots in the US. There are also historical organizations between our two countries; there are events that the United States puts on. Just earlier this year, we did something called America in 3D at the (SM) Mall of Asia where we showcased different cultural programs.
You know, I’m struck [by] how much cultural affinity there is between the two countries and part of it is because of our history together. Here in college, you have an American Studies program. You have, I’m sure, clubs and other ways to become more aware, so I would join those types of organizations.
The LaSallian: What are the opportunities for Filipino students that they’re not taking advantage of or that are untapped?
Hon. Goldberg: They should look into studying in the US if that’s of interest. If financial considerations are a part of it, there are ways to try to get scholarships and other programs to study in the US. That’s one area, and the Embassy can be of help, at least in directing you to the right places.