Ambassador Kristie Kenney reminds Filipinos to work together —not just with its allies in the West but with each other too.
“This is a country of amazing opportunity,” begun US Ambassador to the Philippines Kristie Kenney, speaking at the Anvil Exchange Forum.
Some may say the diplomat seemed to be merely patronizing Filipinos. Others, however, chose to see it as much needed encouragement to turn potential into practice.
Filipinos are barraged with news of corruption, injustice, political instability, on a daily basis. It’s not hard to understand why Juan dela Cruz’s hope is waning. Sometimes it takes an outsider’s perspective for Filipinos to see and appreciate what promise they and their homeland hold.
Kenney isn’t the first to point out the extraordinary natural resources of the Philippines. “You have more fish in your seas than most countries in the world put together. You have incredible wildlife and forests,” she said.
She is among those who have recognized the contribution of Filipino workers to the world. The Ambassador noted that the people are equally extraordinary national treasures themselves. “More than your natural resources, you have Filipinos who have amazing talent,” she enthused. “Filipinos are good employees.”
More than 10 million Filipinos have left home to work overseas. Some to support families back in the Philippines, others to find greener pastures. Kenney described these modern-day heroes as “dedicated, hardworking, compassionate, and extremely creative.”
She talked about Filipinos like fashion designer Monique Luhillier, young singer Charice Pempengco, Broadway star Lea Salonga, White House chef Cristeta Comerford, and boxing champ Manny Pacquiao—all who proudly represent the Philippines in Kenney’s homeland.
“Don’t underestimate the business value of that for the Philippines, because these names continue to put your country on the map,” she reminded her audience.
Filipinos are undoubtedly making a mark in the global workforce. The Philippines, on the other hand, is still struggling to put itself on the map as having one of the world’s better-run economies. In the face of the 2008 financial meltdown, however, the Philippines managed to be, as Ambassador Kenney put it, “relatively insulated from the global economic crisis; not completely, but relatively.”
The crisis may have dealt a soft blow to the country’s economy, but Kenney says that the Philippines should not be complacent, and continue to work on boosting the economy.
“As you see the world starting to recover economically. I think you want to make sure that the Philippines is positioned to take off from that recovery. You want to make sure you’re doing everything you can to continue to attract business to the country, find ways to get Filipino products abroad, and make this country a destination,” she admonished.
Addressing the Chinese Filipino business club, Kenney said they had the power to initiate efforts to attract business to the country. “This is a very exciting time to be in the Philippines, to be a Filipino businessman, and to be thinking about the future of the Philippines, which I think is very bright,” she added.
Walk the Talk
Promise, potential, and a bright future all sound terrific, but is the Philippines doing enough to get on track? According to Kenney, “You’re doing a great job of getting your name known in the United States.
American business has long been a business partner to the Philippines. Case in point, “The American Chamber of Commerce here is the oldest in the world,” noted Kenney.
After Western economies plunged late last year, Asian economies remained afloat; the Philippines being one of them. The country is now a prime location for American investments. Kenney said Americans are interested in “a huge range of Filipino activities: power, healthcare products, and the new success story here in the Philippines, the BPO, or so-called call centers.
“American businesses love being here,” she went on. “Franchises like McDonald’s, Starbucks, The Gap, Krispy Kreme, and Banana Republic find the Philippines a great market.”
Today, the Philippines is establishing its presence in the US. Kenney talked about the mushrooming Filipino franchises in the US like Jollibee, Chowking, and Red Ribbon. Kenney also mentioned that Filipino products, such as high-end furniture, accessories, and fabrics are a hit in many American stores. This could signal the start of a blooming economy for the Philippines.
“It’s a very good partnership on the business level,” said Kenney.
More than shining a beam of optimism on the economy, the diplomat seems to genuinely care for Filipinos. Although not wanting to meddle in domestic affairs, she candidly shares her opinion on what type of leader the Philippines needs.
“I would think that a good leader would want to look at the opportunities ahead of you. The current President and administration have made some good economic reforms. I say the next President would want to step right up and look for ways to make the Philippines more competitive.”
Kenney can relate to millions of Filipino families who have relatives working abroad. Her husband, William Brownfield, is the US Ambassador to Colombia. They’ve spent many years stationed together, but Kenney said representing the US in the Philippines is “too exciting an opportunity to pass up.”
Kenney, dressed that evening in a salmon-pink pantsuit, radiated positivism. Her presence alone reflected the energy, enthusiasm and commitment she wants to see more Filipinos invest in the country.
Print ed: 09/09