by RONALYN BANAKEN
U.S. Embassy Manila Deputy Chief of Mission Michael Klecheski made a stop at the University of Baguio, a rare opportunity where a top-level envoy engages with people on the ground. (Photo: Rene Pascua/UB-MAP)
In a rare occasion, where a top-level diplomat interacts with people on the ground, Michael Klecheski, Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy Manila, made a stop at the University of Baguio (UB) last Jan. 12.
Klecheski was welcomed with a presentation from the University’s student cultural group, UBBUK. The U.S. envoy was then taken on a brief campus tour and afterward spoke before a group of UB students at the Centennial lobby.
In a talk, Klecheski touched on the Philippine–U.S. relations, sharing his interpretation of President Rodrigo Duterte's shift of foreign policy to China from U.S., favoring one that prioritizes closer ties with China. "My interpretation is that Pres. Duterte chooses to be less reliant on the U.S," he said.
He talked about the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), which was modeled after the U.S. Military Academy and whose earliest general staff included officers from the United States Army. “Obviously, there's a striking similarity between PMA and the West Point Academy,” he said. He also mentioned the “growing business opportunities” for Filipinos in the U.S. “About 10 blocks from where I live in New York, there’s [a major Philippine fastfood chain] in the corner and also [a Philippine bakery store],” he noted.
He maintains a connection to the Philippines, as his wife is a Filipino. “My youngest son just got a tattoo in Kalinga. We come here in Baguio during summer and winter so my wife and kids can touch base with their roots,” he said.
The diplomat also took questions from the audience. On the dispute over the West Philippine Sea, he emphasized the concepts of freedom of navigation and non-militarization and the observance of a rules-based approach in resolving the conflict.
Meanwhile, on whether or not U.S. President Donald Trump will completely bail on the Paris Agreement, Klecheski said Trump is likely to use a “business approach” in dealing with the matter. In the Paris Agreement, signatories pledge to reduce their carbon output and halt global warming below two degrees Celsius by the end of the century.
Late last year, the United States, the world's largest economy and second biggest carbon emitter, confirmed it was pulling out of the Agreement. While former President Barack Obama described the Paris accord as the "best chance we have to save the one planet that we've got," his successor, Trump, has been far from as complimentary. The climate pact was shaped around voluntary commitments reviewed and reassessed every five years. But Trump has stated he sees the agreement as unfair to the U.S. and bad for American jobs. As things stand, the U.S. will be the only country in the world not signed on to the accord when it completes the lengthy withdrawal process in 2020. The Philippines signed the landmark Agreement in February last year.
The return of the controversial and historical Balangiga bells was also a subject of discussion. Klecheski remarked, “We continue to find common ground.”
Klecheski became Deputy Chief of Mission at U.S. Embassy Manila in August 2015, his third assignment in the Philippines. A member of the Senior Foreign Service, he assumed the position after serving as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Astana, Kazakhstan. Prior to such post, he served as Political Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, Russia. Earlier, he served as Team Leader of the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Diwaniyah, Iraq, as well as in Poland and Switzerland.
In Washington, he served as Senior Watch Officer in the State Department’s 24-hour Operations Center, as well as Desk Officer of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. He was also Director and Acting Senior Director for Russian Affairs at the National Security Council.
Klecheski touched on the Philippine–U.S. relations in his talk.
(Photo: Rene Pascua/UB-MAP)