Rediscovering the Philippines
NOTES FROM THE EU DELEGATION - Thomas Wiersing (The Philippine Star) - September 21, 2019 - 12:00am

I am somehow the new kid on the block. Well, not really new. Together with my South Korean wife and our two daughters I arrived in the country a year ago. Before that, I had worked on the EU-Philippines relations from Brussels and had the opportunity to visit the Philippines several times.

So when I came here as the Deputy Head of the EU Delegation to the Philippines, I knew already that living in the Philippines would provide the whole family with unforgettable and enriching experiences. And we already had a lot of them – apart from the professional ones, we will never forget swimming with dolphins, diving with whale sharks, riding jeepneys and tricycles and enjoying the nice atmosphere at the German European School Manila.

Since September, I am the Chargé d’Affaires ad interim of the EU Delegation. In this role, I am everyday surprised anew about the variety and depth of the relations between the Philippines and the EU. We are linked through a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, we share common interests in supporting a rules-based international order, trade and investment, regional and global security, including stability and economic development. Sure, the work on the bilateral relations is not exempt from challenges but confronted with global issues such as climate change and the rise of violent extremism, I am convinced that despite our differences we can gain a lot from mutually beneficial cooperation.

The EU, against the background of the often proud but also often painful history of the European continent, has been designed as a peace project. This is why we have supported the Mindanao Peace Process for many years. One of my first and important engagements was, upon the invitation of the Government, witnessing the “Launch of the Second Phase of Decommissioning of MILF Combatants and Weapons” last 7 September in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao.

It was certainly touching to witness how MILF combatants are moving towards a civilian life and a promising future for them and their families. Embracing a new mindset and a totally different lifestyle can be challenging, but the benefits of living in a peaceful, prosperous and non-discriminatory society are incomparable. Together with other diplomats, I had the chance to listen to the very engaging speeches of President Duterte, Secretary Galvez, and Interim Chief Minister Murad. The visit also provided an opportunity to engage with many Cabinet Secretaries and I am very grateful for their hospitality to me during that trip.  

Because peace promotion is so important for the EU, we continue to stand ready to support the implementation of the agreements arising from the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro and to work closely with the Government, the Bangsamoro Transition Authority and all relevant actors towards long-lasting peace, development and progress for the benefit of the Filipinos.

In addition we also try to strengthen the cultural ties between the Philippines and Europe. On 19 September, I opened our film festival Cine Europa 22 in Greenbelt, Makati. Twenty-two stands for the years Cine Europa has been here – quite a long time. It will run in Greenbelt from 20 to 24 September before moving to Cebu, Iloilo, Bohol, Naga, Palawan, Leyte, and then finishing in Manila in November. Showcasing 12 movies from EU Member States and one from Norway, the festival aims at showing the diversity of the European culture. The film industry is also one of our promising economic sectors, representing 4.2% of the EU’s GDP. The potential is, therefore, big for the European and the Filipino creative economies.

Movies can make you laugh and smile, and often you can learn a lot. I recently watched the ‘Quezon’s game’, a film that shows President Manuel L. Quezon’ efforts – and difficulties - to shelter Jews in the Philippines who were fleeing from the terror of Nazi Germany during the World War II.  As a German, it was particularly touching to see that such a faraway country like the Philippines was ready to offer its help when others looked the other way. And when the lights went on, I saw tears in many eyes. Even some Filipinos may not have been fully aware of this very proud chapter in the history of their country.

I hope to see many of you at Cine Europa. Umaasa ako sa mas mabuting kooperasyon at ugnayan!

(Thomas Wiersing is currently Chargé d’Affaires a.i. of the European Union Delegation to the Philippines.)

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