Creating partnerships and convergence to strengthen EU and Phl ties
NOTES FROM THE EU DELEGATION - Franz Jessen (The Philippine Star) - August 22, 2019 - 12:00am

Four European summers have gone by so quickly as this end of the month, as I am ending my four-year term in the Philippines.  

My journey as an EU ambassador has been full of excitement and challenges. Politics in the Philippines is many things, and always full of surprises. President Duterte and his government made sure that my tour here was special, exciting, challenging and different from the standard ambassadorial ‘tour of duty’. This, combined with the incredible social life that Ambassadors enjoy in Makati and the kindness of the amazing Philippine people, made my time here a fantastic professional and social experience.  

At the end of a term it customary to do a stock-taking. Despite some turbulence, we achieved a number of milestones. Firstly, the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) which entered into force last year, was an important step forward. We now have an up-to-date framework for our cooperation in a wide number of areas.  We also managed to keep our trade relations on a solid track, and we did valuable work together on the peace process and with our development cooperation. I would also add, that the profile of the EU was raised.

The Philippines enjoy impressive growth rates, open trade relations and it seeks to promote social cohesion. The Philippines’ contribution to COP21 and its ratification of the Paris Agreement was likewise the outcome of collective efforts of its many climate champions. 

In the areas of development cooperation, the EU has actively supported the Mindanao peace process and has now committed to support the recovery and rehabilitation of Marawi and other areas in Mindanao. Likewise it is supporting the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. 

Humanitarian assistance has also been provided to areas affected by typhoons, earthquakes, conflicts and even the dengue epidemic.  Just this week we extended support to Batanes following the recent earthquake.

The EU has managed to set up three more justice zones in Cebu, Davao and Angeles City in addition to Quezon City. Another justice zone is coming up in Bacolod this month. This programme has helped strengthen the Philippines’ formal justice system through increased efficiency, effectiveness and accountability in the justice sector. 

Our Access to Sustainable Energy Programme in Mindanao is also gaining headway. Technical assistance for the rural electrification in the South continues to benefit many communities. The  National Electrification Administration has recently given the “Golden Dagitab Award” to the Delegation for its support to the rural electrification programme. 

Under the EU’s health sector policy support programme, the Business Mirror, cited the Tarlac Rehabilitation Project for Drug Dependents as “Project of the Year”. 

We also work together in the context of ASEAN. The ASEAN Biodiversity Centre in Los Banos is an example of successful regional cooperation, benefitting from significant EU funding. 

These highlights show how we can work successfully together in a wide number of areas.

I still believe deeply here at the end of my term that our shared values, views and ideas should make it possible to work even closer together. We are both democracies, market economies, we both believe in the multi-lateral rules based system and we share fundamental values.  I often refer to that fact that the OFWs feel fully at home and welcome in the EU, as do EU citizens living in the Philippines. For me this is a reflection of our shared outlook.

On matters relating to trade, we need to continue to discuss to see what realistically can be done to contribute to sustainable growth, create more jobs, enhance competitiveness and share technology. How can the Filipino business people maximise fully the GSP+ is another area that needs full attention. 

Bilateral security co-operation also needs to be fully explored in the contexts of the prevention of violent extremism and radicalism and human trafficking. The same is true in the areas of public financial management and connectivity with multi-lateralism being pushed more forward. 

These are not just however development or political jargons. Interestingly what has left an indelible imprint in my stay here is the people-to-people links that the EU has nurtured through the years. I have made great friends during the past years, in the diplomatic circles, and outside.

On a personal note, I was very honoured when the Manobo tribe recently conferred on me the titles of a “Datu” and “Elder” and given the name “Banog Mantukod”  or the “Eagle that Builds”; a name that comes with an obligation that I will try to respect.

And actually, our bilateral relationship should be seen from the perspective of eagles with sharp vision and foresight and strong enough to be on the lookout for constructive ways on how to move the relations forward to  achieve a more mutual beneficial cooperation. And also a perspective where turbulence does not affect the direction of travel.

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