Manoj Kumar Panigrahi
Ph.D Candidate, National Chengchi University
The COVID-19 pandemic which was first reported from the Wuhan province of China in December 2019 has so far affected more than 200 countries and has caused over half a million deaths (Organization, p. 2). In such a situation the health infrastructure of all the countries has come under tremendous pressure. Besides health, the COVID pandemic has also put pressure on the economy as well. But it has not prevented the donor countries in aid giving.
In this article, I will try to assess the foreign aid being received to the Philippines in this pandemic period by the U.S. The main question this paper will try to find out is that why the U.S is giving aid to the Philippines when its economy and health infrastructure is under huge stress. The reason for choosing the Philippines among many other countries is because it is one of the countries which have territorial water dispute with China and had hosted U.S bases before. Very recently, the Philippine government also took back its decision not to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) signed with the U.S in 1998. Had it had been made into law, U.S forces and their military assets were not going to be allowed in the Philippines territory (Weedon, 2020).
Foreign aid can be understood as any sort of assistance given by one country to another. As per the data available in the U.S Agency for International Development website, which is one of the nodal agencies of the U.S government in aid giving, since March 2020, U.S has invested more than Php978 million ($19.5 million) to the Philippines’ COVID-19 response. Since the past, 20 years U.S has invested nearly Php29.6 billion ($582 million) in the Philippine health sector and has provided nearly Php228.8 billion ($4.5 billion) in total assistance (USAID, 2020). The share of the total aid received from the U.S to the Philippines stands around 15 percent (Purushothaman, 2017).
With such assistance in a difficult time, what does the U.S aims to gain from the Philippines? First, is to regain the confidence of the Philippines government that the U.S can be a reliable partner of the Philippines. Since President Rodrigo Duterte took over the leadership of the Philippines, the relation between the two countries has been in shaky water. The U.S under President Obama on its parts on multiple occasions has raised the human rights violations under the Duterte leadership (Lema, 2017). With the next U.S President Trump has praised President Duterte for doing an unbelievable job on the drug problem (Lema, 2017). Such a change in the mood of Washington can be seen as there is a growing realization among the U.S policymakers as a need to regain the confidence of the traditional allies in the Indo/Asia-Pacific region.
The U.S aims to bring back the Philippines in its side by not getting involved in the domestic issues of the Philippines. The Philippine public has also shown confidence in Trump in handling international matters. A survey report released by the Pew research center shows that 77 percent of Filipino people have confidence in Trump. And 80 percent of the Filipino people surveyed showed a favorable view of the U.S (Acosta, 2020) . This survey shows a high level of trust among common people in the Philippines towards the U.S. This can be crucial for the leadership of the Philippines to approach the U.S in a much friendly manner besides having differences.
Secondly, the U.S needs its allies to support in dealing with a rising China in the region. The U.S has started re-balancing act in the region by increasing conducting military flights and letting its warships sailing in the disputed South China Sea (Detsch, 2020) . The VFA as it was supposed to get terminated by the end of August 2020, saw a suspension from President Duterte itself. It is going to give a morale boost to the policymakers both in the Philippines and the U.S who had advocated in the increasing involvement of the U.S in the region. The reason for scrapping the earlier decision of ending the VFA can be seen as the Philippines is facing a more aggressive China since March.
Third, U.S policy of War on Terror (WOT). U.S forces have been a constant partner of the Philippines armed forces in dealing with the armed groups in the disturbed Mindanao region, in the southern Philippines. The Marawi siege of 2017 saw a major security challenge to the Philippines government. Under its WOT policy, U.S soldiers were present in providing technical assistance to the Philippines Army (Morales & Lewis, 2017). Such assistance, during the siege, has possibly reassured the U.S allies that it is still can be seen as a trusted partner in critical situations. The COVID-19 situation might have deterred the ground operations by the Philippines government against the armed groups, but it has not hampered in procuring the military hardware from the U.S. Such relation can be seen as a constant effort from both sides to keep the relationship and partnership going.
What lays in the future? By assisting the Philippines government, it can be seen that the U.S wants a strong and reliable partner that has a very strategic location in the South China Sea. The U.S on its part might be looking for opening up its bases in the Philippines. It is also equally important for both the nation’s leadership to trust each other and continue the partnership. The Philippines government under Duterte has rightly recognized the importance of the U.S in the region as it has not been able to address the growing Chinese aggression in the region. With the Duterte administration having less than two years in power, U.S has been trying to gain the lost ground in the Philippines so that the next leadership will be more acceptable to the U.S policies in the region. It is to the benefit of both sides to continue the partnership with each other. The COVID-19 pandemic is very unlikely to be controlled so soon, as nations across the world are trying to find its vaccination. Such time might see a greater and long term partnership between the Philippines and the U.S.
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