About the Author: William J. Burns serves as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs.
A jam-packed two-day visit to the Philippines capped my four-country tour of Southeast Asia. As Secretary Clinton said during her visit eight months ago, the United States and the Philippines have a long friendship and strong partnership based on shared histories and mutual interests. The United States is ready to partner with the Philippines to "meet the challenges and seize the opportunities of the 21st century."
The Philippines is a country poised on the cusp of great change and reform. The potential for real progress and expanded U.S.-Philippines cooperation is clear following the recent election of President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino. I met with the new President on Tuesday to convey the United States' strong support for his new administration. I was impressed by his commitment to confronting poverty and corruption, and to protecting human rights. He has built a strong cabinet team to advance his many important goals. We discussed the ongoing, wide-ranging cooperation between our two countries and explored future opportunities for strengthening our relationship. These were consistent themes in all my meetings with government officials, including the Secretaries of Finance and of National Defense.
One of the most poignant moments for me was my visit to the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial. The cemetery contains the largest number of graves of our World War II service members worldwide, a total of 17,202, and is the resting place of service members from the Philippines and other Allied nations. In front of the chapel are two large hallways where 36,285 names are inscribed on the Tablets of the Missing. Though these numbers are staggering, the Memorial imparts a feeling of peace, and is a reminder of our countries deeply shared history. After laying a wreath in front of the chapel, I viewed the mosaic maps which recall the achievements of the American and Allied armed forces in the Pacific, China, India, and Burma.
Civil society plays a critical role in addressing issues of governance, peace, and development in the Philippines. A roundtable discussion with an impressive group of community leaders provided the opportunity for me to hear about their work with regard to election monitoring and reform, good governance and transparency, extrajudicial killing and enforced disappearances, trafficking in persons, and human rights in general. I particularly enjoyed getting their perspective on the new Aquino Administration and the positive steps the government is taking to confront these issues, and on ways the United States can support their work.
During my second day in the Philippines, I traveled to the southern island of Mindanao, where I met with civil society leaders, regional government officials, and military representatives. I applaud civil society's dedication to promoting peace and protecting the human rights of Filipinos in Mindanao, especially given recent tragedies in the region. Aggressive pursuit of those responsible for extrajudicial killings and human trafficking is the right thing to do, and U.S. technical assistance is helping the Philippine justice sector become more effective in these areas. The United States has a strong interest in supporting the efforts of both government and civil society to bring peace and security to this region and will continue to support these efforts. The highpoint of my day was joining students to launch a new English language partnership program, sponsored by USAID, at one of Mindanao's schools -- not only was I impressed by their eagerness to learn English, but I also got to enjoy a wonderful performance of traditional dance. Programs like this are a key way that we partner with the Philippines to promote economic prosperity and sustainable development in Mindanao.
The United States shares an important past and a close, cooperative relationship with this key ally, but the Filipino people convinced me that an even brighter future is yet to come. Mabuhay!