US boosts exchange programs with PHL amid expansion of defense cooperation 

THE UNITED STATES is enhancing its exchange programs with the Philippines and has vowed to help build world-classuniversities in the Southeast Asian nation.   

The commitment comes as Washington boosts its military presence in the Philippines a move that has raised fears among localities that host sites for the expanded Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the two countries.   

Washington is on trackto provide $70 million to support more than 2,000 exchange participants between the Philippines and the US over the next 10 years, the White House said in a statement after a bilateral meeting between Philippine President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. and US President Joseph R. Biden on May 1.  

This investment will allow for an expansion of the Fulbright program, the International Visitor Leadership Program, the Philippines Youth Leadership Program, the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, the Humphrey program, and other bilateral exchange initiatives with the Philippines,it said.   

The $70-million support represents one of the US governments largest long-term people-to-people commitments globally, the White House said.  

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), meanwhile, will launch a $30-million next-generation higher education partnership to strengthen the Philippine education system.  

Under the partnership, it will work with Philippine universities to expand their innovation, entrepreneurship, and workforce development capabilities, pending availability of funds, the White House said.  

This flagship education partnership will advance Philippine human capital priorities by supporting universitiescurriculum development, faculty training, higher education policy and management, research, and community engagement.  

Some local and foreign policy analysts and civil society groups fear that the EDCA expansion would drag Manila into any geopolitical conflict involving Washington.   

The White House statement said Washington and Manila also welcome plans to establish a Philippines-US Friendship Fellowship (PUFF), which is designed to provide Filipino students and young professionals with unique educational opportunities in the US.  

It will help build life-long tiesamong the next generation of Philippine and American innovators and leaders, Mr. Bidens office said. 

It said the US government wants to contribute to the Philippines-United Nations Joint Programme for Human Rights, a unique mechanism intended to strengthen Philippine accountability mechanisms.   

Washington also looks forward to launching a US-Philippines Democracy Dialogue this year, the White House said.  

Earlier, Philippine rights groups urged Mr. Biden to exert pressure on Mr. Marcos during their May 1 meeting to uphold human rights. Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza