New ConGen says ties with U.S. ‘flourishing,’ addresses reports on visa policy and alleged Loida plot to destabilize Duterte government

‘On social media now there are more ways for Filipinos and Filipino Americans to reconnect, to keep that connection  intact, growing, vital and healthy.’ The FilAm Photo

‘On social media now there are more ways for Filipinos and Filipino Americans to reconnect, to keep that connection intact, growing, vital and healthy.’ The FilAm Photo

By Cristina DC Pastor

In her first press conference as the new Consul General to New York, Ma. Theresa Dizon-de Vega said Philippine-U.S. relations are “flourishing,” and addressed issues on visa policies, as well as a rumored plot by businesswoman Loida Nicolas Lewis’ to oust the Philippine president in a CIA-backed coup.

“The general picture is that our relationship is flourishing,” said De Vega, a career foreign service officer who has been assigned in Hong Kong and Mexico. She was previously Chief Coordinator from 2013 serving three Philippine foreign secretaries in the transition from the administration of Benigno Aquino III to Rodrigo Duterte.

Speaking at the traditional ConGen Hour, a joint event of the Philippine Consulate and the Fil-Am Press Club of New York, De Vega said people-to-people exchange between the two countries are increasing.

“We received U.S. delegations to the Philippines,” she said, highlighting Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent visit to Manila. A stream of Philippine officials also visited the U.S. in the last couple of months, among them Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella, and Budget Secretary Ben Diokno.

As for the defense and security alliance, she said the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement between the two countries will be implemented. EDCA provides for a routine visit of U.S. military forces in the Philippines without the establishment of permanent bases. It is one of the features of the Visiting Forces Agreement governing the security relations between Manila and Washington.

“The defense agreement will be implemented,” she said. “They’re reviewing the number of trained exercises, and they’ve agreed on the continuation of joint exercises, so we’re moving in that direction.”

She stressed the U.S. is the oldest and a “very important” treaty ally of the Philippines.

The matter of Loida Nicolas Lewis’ alleged attempt to destabilize the Duterte Government widely reported on social media was asked. Reports quote Duterte as saying a “Filipina widow of a wealthy African-American is planning to lead a massive demonstration against him.”

Lewis has issued a statement strongly denying any plot or conspiracy “being imagined by those who are spreading lies and hatred between fellow Filipinos.”

De Vega said she recognized that Lewis, who is the widow of businessman Reginald Lewis – said to be the richest African American in the 1980s – is such a high-profile personality. She and Lewis met at one of the community events where she casually mentioned that she had issued a statement. De Vega said she took note of that.

“She did not reach out (specifically to talk about alleged plot) but we did see each other at one of the events,” she said.

De Vega also clarified there has been “no change” in the visa policy for Americans visiting the Philippines. U.S. nationals are still entitled to a 30-day visa-free entry to the country. An extension of that period is subject to applicable Philippine immigration laws, she said.

Duterte has expressed his dismay that Americans can easily enter the Philippines and yet Filipinos are having a hard time getting into the U.S. This observation has triggered speculations whether the visa rules have changed.

Said De Vega: “Just to assure the community and the public, existing visa regulations remain in place.”

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