Top US official visiting PH, set to tackle 'uncertainty'

MANILA, Philippines – US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel is set to tackle the "unnecessary uncertainty" in Philippine-US relations as he makes a previously scheduled trip to the Philippines this week.

Russel is visiting the Philippines from Saturday to Tuesday, October 22 to 25.

He is supposed "to meet with government officials and have lunch with Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) participants," the US embassy said in a statement.

Russel is the US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. 

Before becoming assistant secretary in July 2013, Russel served as special assistant to US President Barack Obama and also as National Security Council senior director for Asian affairs.

At the White House, Russel helped in crafting the US rebalance or "pivot" to Asia, a cornerstone of Obama’s foreign policy, with a shifting of focus away from the Middle East toward the Asia-Pacific.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said on Friday, October 21, that Russel "is actually traveling to the Philippines on a previously scheduled trip to have a discussion about the scope of the relationship between the United States and the Philippines."

'Unnecessary uncertainty'

On Russel's trip to Manila, Earnest added, "I'm confident that these recent comments from President Duterte will be on the agenda as we seek some clarity from the Filipino government."

Russel's visit comes days after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announced in China his "separation from the United States" in economic and military terms.

Earnest said: "We haven't heard any specifics from the Filipino government about what precisely President Duterte means when he refers to a separation, but those comments are creating unnecessary uncertainty in our relationship."

Referring to Duterte, Earnest said: "Again, you all have extensively covered the kind of rhetoric that he has used. Some of it personal, some of it offensive, some of it confusing, all of it walked back by senior officials in his government." 

"So that's the source of the uncertainty that will certainly be part of the discussions that the Assistant Secretary of State, Mr Russel, will convene in the Philippines when he arrives there," Earnest said.

In an earlier interview with Rappler, US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg said Duterte's anti-US rhetoric has caused "head-scratching" in Washington. He said this is a kind of language that the US has heard elsewhere, "but not from a friend and ally." – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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