— By Ambassador Kristie Kenney, 5 January 2010
Although it seems like just yesterday that I arrived in the Philippines, nearly four years have gone by. And very soon it will be time for me to head to the United States to be with my family. It has been an extraordinary honor to represent my country in the Philippines, one of our oldest allies. I have felt very at home in the Philippines, perhaps because our two countries have so much shared history together. Our fathers and grandfathers shed blood together in World War II to protect our freedom. Millions of Filipinos live and work in the United States, and many Americans call the Philippines home. We are so much more than friends — we are family.
Our Embassy in Manila is large and diverse, reflecting the strong and deep relationship between our countries. I am so proud of the work our team does here. Over the past four years, we have seen new veterans’ benefits given to the wonderful and deserving Filipino World War II veterans. Those veterans have been like family to me, and I feel deeply honored to have heard their stories and shares time with them. They are true heroes to all of us. I am very happy that they received their new benefits during my time as Ambassador. And I am proud to have been made an honorary member of the Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor although I am well aware that I will never come close to matching their courage and valor. Visiting the site of the Leyte landing, Corregidor, the site of the surrender in Bataan, and spending time at the U.S. residence in Baguio, where the World War II peace in the Philippines was signed, are some of my most cherished memories.
My memories of the past four years are as diverse as the Philippines themselves. I will never forget the rich cultures of Mindanao or the proud traditions of the Ifugao. I have loved the smiling face of every child our education programs have helped. The look of joy and wonder as they experience the Internet for the first time is unforgettable. Or the dedication of the teachers who serve from small rural schools to large Manila universities. (Sorry if my readers have wearied of me talking about education, but I am still the daughter and granddaughter of public school teachers. I always love helping education and those who teach.) In the Philippines, I have seen the wonders of the oceans and become dedicated to helping protect our environment. I’ve snorkeled with whale sharks, been diving in aquariums, tested jeepney emissions, talked to fishermen about sustainable fishing, seen our Peace Corp volunteers energize communities to create marine protected areas, and watched our USAID team design great programs with Philippine partners to promote clean energy and clean waters.
American business continues to flourish in the Philippines. Whether on the retail end where I’ve watched Gap, Banana Republic, and Krispy Kreme (to name just a few) open hugely successful stores or in the business process outsourcing sector, which has American companies in nearly every region of the Philippines now. What an exceptional experience to watch Ford cars be assembled, or Kraft foods test new products, or see “call center” agents talk to American clients from Davao, Baguio, Quezon City or Tacloban. And while I am a fan of Filipino food (especially lumpia and mangoes), I’ve loved being able to eat in McDonalds or get a coffee from Starbucks across the Philippines.
I’ve seen conflict areas where ordinary citizens struggle to provide a decent life for their families and hope we’ve helped give them the infrastructure and education to succeed. I’ve witnessed the bravery of the Philippine Armed Forces and the Philippine National Police as they tackle the tough opponents of terrorism, crime, and worked to combat poverty. In times of natural disasters, our partnership with Filipinos –with the AFP, PNP, LGUs and with NGO groups – helped get relief to those in need whether in Manila, Northern Luzon, Iloilo or Bicol. The resiliency and compassion of Filipinos under the most difficult of circumstances is amazing and inspirational.
On a personal level, it has been a joy to hear the musically talented Filipinos. It has been great fun to share the Filipino passion for sports and to watch great college and professional basketball games. The legendary Filipino hospitality has welcomed me into homes across the country from the humblest provincial dwellings to the grandest Manila homes. I’ve learned from Filipinos to cherish family, no matter how great the distances between family members. I’ve learned from Filipinos to take time to celebrate the big and small moments in life and that in doing so, you create lasting memories.
President Obama has nominated Harry K. Thomas, Jr. to succeed me as the United States Ambassador to the Philippines. Harry Thomas is a career diplomat who has served as the U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh and has held leadership positions in Washington, D.C. as well as key positions in U.S. Embassies in Latin America, Africa, and South Asia. He is an experienced diplomat who is also a close personal friend of mine. He will be a wonderful United States Ambassador to the Philippines, and I know Filipinos will give him a warm welcome. His nomination is now pending before the United States Senate, which must confirm him before he can assume his duties in Manila.
This will be my last blog post as the United States Ambassador to the Philippines. I thank all who were kind enough to read and comment on my blog. It has been a privilege to represent the United States in the Philippines. I thank Filipinos throughout the world for the kindness and friendship you have shared with me and so many other Americans. And I hope our paths will cross again. Let me close with an old Irish blessing that has always been a favorite of my Irish-American family:
May the road rise up to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face
May the rain fall soft upon your fields
And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand.
I have to confess that in my short life Ambassador Kristie Kenney has been the most accessible Ambassador sent to the Philippines in my view. She shows in some ways how most future ambassadors have to be. The waning of US economic might means the old ways (hope to read THe End Of Influence to broaden my knowledge in this) of diplomacy by US Ambassadors must change to a more collegial consensus building way, How equals treat each other. In this way Ambassador K Kenney save for a few blots in her record (subic rape case??) becomes the poster child of the new State Dept. I wish her and her family well, and may she be received in her next assignment , with the same warmth that we showed her, for she has shown that she deserves it. (I know how UGLY the previous paragraph was. I’m just really irked with something work related arrggh)