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State Department: Filipinos ‘welcome’ in US as PH not part of Trump travel ban

By: - Reporter / @NikkoDizonINQ
/ 06:57 PM February 02, 2017

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WASHINGTON, DC— Amid lingering human rights concerns, the United States wants to continue to have a “productive, forward looking relationship” with Philippines, a “core ally in Asia,” US State Department spokesperson Mark Toner said Wednesday.

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“We will sometimes have concerns, certainly about human rights is one of those concerns,” Toner said. “But we also believe we have a relationship with the Philippines where we can talk about some of these areas of concerns at the same time that we pursue a very productive and forward looking bilateral relationship. We want to make this relationship even stronger.”

Toner also allayed fears among Filipinos caused by President Donald Trump’s controversial executive order that issued a temporary travel ban to seven Muslim-majority countries and suspended refugee admissions, saying Filipinos remain “welcome” to the US.

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Toner said Filipinos with valid visas could travel and live in America because the Philippines was not part of the executive order.

“This is a decision (President Trump) took in the interest of national security interests of the United States,” he said. “He has said very clearly that his first priority is to protect American lives and American citizens and so he went to conduct a review of some processes by which people are traveling to the United States.”

Toner spoke with 10 Filipino journalists, including this reporter from the Inquirer, who are part of the US State Department Foreign Press Centers reporting tour.

Both the Philippines and the US are undergoing transitions in their foreign policies under their respective new administrations, unique by all accounts for those who are accustomed to traditional diplomacy employed to achieve one’s strategic interests.

But while Toner emphasized that human rights remains a concern by the US government, an expert from the Washington-based think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) took note that human rights issues appear to have taken a backseat in the two-week old presidency of Donald Trump.

CSIS senior adviser Murray Hiebert said that the Trump administration has not “talked about it at all, unlike their predecessors,” even as human rights and democratic principles have been “key tenets of US foreign policy for decades.”

“I get the feeling that listening to (Rex) Tillerson and Trump, human rights issues would be less of a concern. But we don’t know… It is not an emphasis now but does it become one later?” Hiebert said, indicating that a lot of things could still happen under the Trump administration.

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On Wednesday night (Thursday morning in Manila), Tillerson was confirmed and sworn in as Secretary of State amid what the Washington Post said was a “record opposition” from the US Senate.

Like Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr., Tillerson does not have any diplomatic or military experience. Tillerson was Exxon Mobil’s chief executive until Trump’s nomination of him as secretary of state.

At the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Jan. 11, Tillerson did not condemn the Duterte administration’s war on drugs, which by then had claimed more than 6,000 lives of mostly impoverished drug suspects.

He had said he would “want to understand [the campaign] in better detail, need more information.”

Republican Sen. Marc Rubio told Tillerson that Duterte himself had “bragged” about the Philippines’ war on drugs, which had been recorded daily by the media.

When pressed by Rubio if the bloody anti-drug campaign was an “appropriate way” for Duterte to react to the Philippines’ drug concerns, Tillerson had said: “If the facts are supportive of those numbers and actions, I don’t think any of us would support that as an appropriate way to deal with offenders no matter how egregious.” /ATM

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TAGS: Donald Trump, Foreign Press Centers reporting tour, Mark Toner, Trump immigration ban, US State Department, US-Philippines relations
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