By Monsi A. Serrano
JUST like a marriage, the 60-year diplomatic relationship between the Philippines and the European Union is not perfect, to say the least. Nevertheless, the commitment they share is unwavering, a fact we can be confident in.
The imperfections did not arise from one party abandoning the other, but rather because someone from the Philippines became enamored with another country, neglecting the sanctity of the 60-year “marriage” with the EU and opting for a younger, 34-year-old diplomatic relationship with China. Easily, it would have been wiser to value and remain faithful to a partner who has been with you for six decades, rather than a nextdoor neighbor whose actions betray their words. As the cliché goes, “Talk is cheap.”
I am specifically referring to the individual who called for the expulsion of European Union Ambassadors due to his vexation. This person, who dislikes dissidents, has ruled his small kingdom in the South of the Philippines for over six decades and, perhaps, intends to continue doing so indefinitely. Heaven forbid.
In 2017, China’s ardent supporter, former President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, demanded that all European Ambassadors leave the Philippines within 24 hours. This abrupt action was a response to the failure of his drug war and the alarming increase in drug-related killings of innocent and impoverished people in the Philippines. Despite the administration’s claims of success, the world was alarmed as billions worth of drugs continued to flow into the Philippines through the “green lane” during the previous administration.
Label it as an oxymoron or paradox, but Duterte’s war on drugs failed, as no major figures were apprehended during the six years. Peter Lim, closely associated with Duterte, mysteriously fled the Philippines and found refuge in Xi Jinping’s haven.
Sixteen days after assuming office as the 16th President of the Republic of the Philippines, Duterte met with Lim, informing him during a media briefing that he would shoot him in the face. However, how could he do so if he had pledged allegiance to China? Perhaps it was said in jest.
Interestingly, this marked the first time in Philippine history that a president called for the expulsion of the ambassadors en masse for not subscribing to his despotism, while simultaneously tolerating Xi’s bullying of Filipino fishermen, coast guards, and Philippine Navy personnel from his ivory tower. The reasons behind his actions are as mysterious as they are perplexing.
Whatever the EU has been doing for the Philippines aligns with their goals, values, and raison d’être, with no strings attached.
I will not hide my disappointment with the past administration’s treatment of the EU. I must emphasize that former EU Ambassador Franz Jessen is a dear friend of mine and the media. He even organized a farewell breakfast with the media.
While I respect the current EU Head of the Delegation, who may not be as media-savvy as his predecessor, EU Ambassador Luc Véron was notably active, especially during the height of COVID-19 pandemic, holding several online meet-ups facilitated by the media darling, Thelma Gecolea, of the EU Public Affairs Office.
EU’s efforts in the Philippines
For those unfamiliar with the EU’s contributions to the Philippines, there are numerous initiatives. In terms of investment, the EU is the first foreign investor in the Philippines, holding one of the largest foreign direct investment stocks at 13.7 billion euros in 2021. In trade, the EU is the Philippines’ fourth-largest trading partner. An example of the EU’s commitment to aiding the Philippines in trade is the extension of the Generalized System of Preference Plus (GSP+) trade agreement. The EU is also currently working on a free trade agreement.
The Erasmus Mundus Scholarship program has benefited many Filipinos, providing opportunities for education and cultural exchange. Additionally, there are study visits for journalists, and I was fortunate to be chosen by the Czech and Polish Embassies in the Philippines to lead the media team during one such visit. The National Copernicus Capacity Support Action Program for the Philippines (CopPhil) allocates a significant budget of €10 million for better disaster response and climate change adaptation.
Compared to China, the EU and its member states have provided extensive support to the Philippines in times of disasters, pandemics, and various opportunities, including education, cultural exchange, countryside development, investments, and aid.
During the visit of Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission President, various cooperation initiatives between the EU and the Philippines were presented. These include the free trade agreement, holding potential for substantial growth and job creation. Furthermore, the EU President highlighted that through the FTA, new technology cooperation could modernize the broader economy. A third initiative involves turning the Philippines into a digital hub in the region, attracting more foreign investments.
There are numerous other initiatives to mention, but I see promising prospects in our strong, deeper, and longer diplomatic relations with the European Union, particularly with the roadmap that President von der Leyen presented during her visit, propelling the EU-Philippine partnership to the next level.
In short, the European Union and its member states are true friends! Merci, EU!
Postscript: Kudos to SM Super Malls for hosting the launch of the 60th anniversary logo of diplomatic ties between the European Union and the Philippines on January 12. The iconic globe will display the logo until Jan. 19, 2024. People should visit the area and appreciate the sincerity of the EU’s friendship with the Philippines as we flourish as a Community of Nations.