UNDER SECRETARY BURNS:
Good afternoon everyone. I’m delighted to be here in Manila. I’m very pleased to have had the opportunity to convey congratulations and best regards from President Obama to President Aquino. And I’m especially pleased to emphasize at this important moment, at the very beginning of the new administration of the Philippines, the high priority that President Obama attaches to our long-standing partnership with your country. I’m very pleased to be able to emphasize our determination to renew and expand our partnership in the spirit of mutual respect in the years ahead.
I listened very carefully to the President’s description of an ambitious set of priorities: including poverty reduction, health, education, and job creation. I emphasized that the United States wants to do everything we can to help make progress in all of those areas, which are so important to creating a better future for the people of the Philippines.
We also discussed other important priorities including judicial reform, including efforts to improve accountability and transparency and fight corruption, which are crucial in any healthy democratic society. We discussed protection of human rights, and the need to combat trafficking, which are equally crucial in any healthy democracy. We had an opportunity to talk about some important regional issues. I emphasized the determination of President Obama to deepen our ties to ASEAN, in which the Philippines remains a key partner of the United States.
And finally I want to note that I enjoyed very much the opportunity earlier today to meet with civil society leaders. I listened carefully to their perspectives on the challenges and opportunities ahead for the Philippines. And I emphasized to them President Obama’s view that strong relations between countries are certainly about relations between governments, but equally about relations between our two societies and between our two peoples.
So once again, I’m delighted to be here and I look forward very much to working with the government and the people of the Philippines to create an even stronger relationship in the future. QUESTION:
Under Secretary, what is the significance of your visit to the south of the country tomorrow in the light of the activities there of the U.S. military? And does this entail a new stage in the U.S. military involvement in the area?UNDER SECRETARY BURNS:
No, it does not signal a new stage. It simply is an indication of our continuing commitment to work with the government of the Philippines and the people of the Philippines, including in Mindanao, to try to create a greater sense of economic hopefulness. We contribute a considerable percentage of our development assistance in the Philippines to programs in Mindanao and I look forward to the opportunity to observe some of those programs. We do take pride in the advice and the training that our security forces can contribute as well to the efforts of the Philippine government. This is an ongoing effort.QUESTION:
Is the U.S. government optimistic that the Philippines’ human rights records will improve under the present administration and would you reiterate Pres. Obama’s indication of President’s Aquino’s visit to the United States?UNDER SECRETARY BURNS:
I certainly did reiterate President Obama’s invitation as earlier conveyed to the President in their telephone conversation and their correspondence. We look forward to the visit at an early opportunity. I think it would give us both the chance to underscore the significance of our partnership and the ways in which we can expand upon it. Certainly I am encouraged by the emphasis on protection of human rights I heard from the President today. We’ll see how much can be accomplished in the new administration. It’s obviously a very difficult challenge, but protection of human rights is an extremely important goal for any democratic system. So we hope very much to see progress in that area.