Human Connection Highlighted in Forum Celebrating 75 Years of Philippines-US Relations

Clockwise from top left: Ambassador Kristie Kenney (Former US Ambassador to the Philippines); Ms. Lea Salonga (Singer and Theatre Actress); Dr. Alex Brillantes, Jr. (University of the Philippines – National College of Public Administration and Governance); and Prof. Toym Imao (University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts)

The strong relationship between the Philippines and the United States (US) has been fueled by the unbreakable friendship and deep people-to-people connection between Filipinos and Americans.

This was the overarching theme of the online Mabini Dialogue held on 28 July 2021 to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of diplomatic relations between the Philippines and the United States. The Dialogue was jointly organized by the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) and the US Embassy in the Philippines, and was graced by a roster of distinguished speakers – including luminaries in the fields of education, the arts, and public diplomacy.

Ambassador Kristie Kenney, former US Ambassador to the Philippines, and the first woman to hold that post, highlighted the importance of social media as a positive tool in her efforts at forging meaningful connections with diverse audiences. Amb. Kenney recognized that there is a need to maintain the robust relationship between the Philippines and the US and to allow future generations to experience and appreciate the fruits of this significant partnership. She challenged the audience to look for opportunities to keep the relationship moving forward.

Toym Imao, a renowned visual artist and a Professor at the College of Fine Arts of the University of the Philippines in Diliman, shared his experiences as an artist in both the Philippines and the US. Mr. Imao reflected on his experiences and the experiences of other artists before him who took to the United States for art education, training, and exposure. He believes that their collective experience shows that visual arts can serve as an accessible language that can bridge people of diverse backgrounds and cultures.

Dr. Alex Brillantes, Jr., a Professor at the National College of Public Administration and Governance at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, reflected on the importance of education and its contribution to Philippines-US relationship. As a former East West Center scholar, Dr. Brillantes acknowledged that his education in the US greatly influenced his lifelong perspectives and shaped his professional life as an academic and a governance practitioner, and opened doors for further opportunities. Dr. Brillantes asserted that through education, people are able to acquire knowledge, broaden their perspectives, and understand the rapidly evolving world that we live in today.

Ms. Lea Salonga, multiple award-winning singer and theatre actress, gave heartfelt remarks, sharing her experiences as an artist in the US. Lea recognized the innate attraction of the Filipino people to music and the arts, and the influence of Western media. She looks forward to a future where there is adequate institutional support for the growing artist community in the Philippines, similar to that in the US. Lea believes that Filipinos are naturally talented in the arts, and hopes for more exchanges and opportunities for Filipinos.

The Open Forum served as an opportunity for the speakers and the audience to reflect on how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the exchanges in diplomacy, education, and arts and culture between the Philippines and the United States. Both Toym and Lea, as members of the arts community, recognized the hardships brought about by the pandemic to artists. However, the use of social media and video conferencing platforms has allowed artists all over the world to continue with their craft, and even reach a much wider audience. Dr. Brillantes seconded this notion, asserting that we should take advantage of this opportunity to engage with more students.   

Amb. Kenney emphasized that the strong people-to-people connection between the Philippines and the US is precisely what we can harness to meet these challenges, and that this deep human connection facilitates a creative collaboration between us.

The Dialogue highlighted the unique insights of both Filipinos and Americans from diverse backgrounds, whose lives have been profoundly influenced by the friendship between the Philippines and the US and who, in varied ways, shape the relationship.