BY JENNIE ILUSTRE
WASHINGTON –– US Ambassador to the Philippines Harry K. Thomas Jr. said the US debt ceiling “does not have an effect on our assistance programs” to the Philippines, but added it is up to the US Congress to decide on appropriations on new assistance programs.
The $424-million Millennium Challenge Corporation anti-poverty and anti-corruption grant to the Philippines is “fully funded for five years,” he said at the US Ambassador Briefing Series at Asia Society Washington on August 11.
Thomas also gave the assurance the US would continue “despite our budget realities, to assist the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.”
The US re-engagement policy in Asia includes sustained assistance for the territorial and maritime defense of the Philippines, a treaty ally. The two countries are marking the 60th anniversary of the Mutual Defense Treaty this year.
Thomas said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is “working very hard” for the US State Department, USAID and other budgets.
The envoy restated the US policy on the territorial dispute over South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) and Spratly Islands between China and other ASEAN countries, including the Philippines. He said the issue should be resolved peacefully “through ASEAN…at the negotiating table.”
Thomas, a strong supporter of the fight against human trafficking (sex and labor trafficking), said the US Department of Labor has given the Philippines $15 million to “combat child labor.”
Thomas also said the Philippines’ greatest export is its people, about 4.5 million in the US, including Filipino teachers who are “doing a reverse Thomasite, specially in the depressed areas in the East Coast.”