Manila-Washington ties seen off to fresh good start

President Joe Biden has appointed a Filipino-American as acting administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), an independent agency of the US federal government primarily responsible for administering civilian foreign aid and development assistance to mostly developing countries.

Meanwhile, former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario lauded Biden’s appointment of Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, whom he said played a vital role in arriving at a decision to undertake joint patrols in the West Philippine Sea.

Also, a leader of the House of Representatives said he expected that relations between Manila and Washington under the Biden administration would be off to a good start, with the Philippines back on the list of countries eligible to participate in America’s H-2B visa program.

“This is definitely a positive signal from Washington,” House deputy speaker and Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel said.

In an update on its website, the USAID said President Biden on January 20 appointed Gloria Steele to the agency’s top post in acting capacity.

“Gloria Steele was a distinguished career member of the U.S. Government’s Senior Executive Service for over 18 years,” the USAID said, describing its new administrator.

Del Rosario, chairman of the Stratbase ADR Institute, also applauded the appointment of former US ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim as Acting Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs “as it is often at that level where foreign policy is formulated and made to happen.”

“We welcome the appointment of Secretary of State Antony Blinken whom we had worked with when he was Deputy Secretary of State,” Del Rosario said, even as he recalled that before stepping down as Secretary of Foreign Affairs, he and Ambassador Joey Cuisia engaged Sec. Blinken, who was then Deputy Secretary in Washington, “to arrive at a decision to undertake joint patrols in the West Philippine Sea.”

“Acting Assistant Secretary Sung Kim is an effective and tested diplomat. We have had the good fortune of benefiting from his experience and skills. To manage the prevailing challenges in our side of the world, he will be instrumental for the US and its policy in the Indo-Pacific,” he added.

Pimentel, meanwhile, was referring to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s decision to return the Philippines to the list of countries whose citizens are qualified to receive H-2B visas for short-term non-farm jobs in America.

“For two years under the previous U.S. administration (of Donald Trump), the Philippines was removed from the eligibility list and Filipinos were unable to participate in the H-2B program,” said Pimentel, chairperson of the House committee on strategic intelligence and a backer of the PH-US Visiting Forces Agreement in support of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between the two countries.

“The immediate beneficiary of our return to the eligibility list are Filipinos looking for construction jobs in Guam,” Pimentel said.

According to the agency, Steele worked as Acting Assistant Administrator and Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Asia from 2015 to 2020 before retirement from Federal service.

Steele also served as USAID’s Mission Director for the Philippines, the Pacific Islands, and Mongolia, from 2010 to 2015.

Apart from these, she also worked as an official of the Bureau for Global Health as well as of the Bureau for Europe and Eurasia.

Ms. Steele also served for one year in the Bureau for Policy and Program Coordination, where she led the development of USAID’s first food security policy, the agency said.

“Earlier in her career, Ms. Steele served as a Management Consultant to the Philippines’ Secretary of Agriculture, and taught Business Economics at Letran Graduate School for Business in Manila,” it added.

Steele earned her master’s degree in Agricultural Economics from Kansas State University and bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Maryknoll College in the Philippines.

“Her awards include a Presidential Meritorious Executive Award in 2007, Presidential Distinguished Executive Awards in 2008 and 2018, and the Order of Sikatuna award from the President of the Philippines in 2015,” said the USAID, the leading U.S. government agency for international development and disaster assistance.

With a budget of over $27 billion, USAID is one of the largest official aid agencies in the world and accounts for more than half of all US foreign assistance.

Since 2010, USAID has provided P16.5 billion ($340 million) in disaster relief and recovery assistance for more than 100 cities and municipalities in the Philippines.

Topics: Joe Biden , United States Agency for International Development , Albert del Rosario , Anthony Blinken
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