70 years after fighting together in the Korean War, the Philippines and Korea again unite, this time against COVID-19

DIPLOMATIC POUCH - Han Dong-Man - The Philippine Star

On June 25, 1950, Korea was mired into a war by the hostile North, which took millions of lives and immeasurable sufferings. And yet, the Korean War would have ended more badly if not for the invaluable support of the countries under the United Nations Command, such as the Philippines. Without the noble sacrifice of every individual who fought side-by-side with Korean soldiers, today’s Korea would not be enjoying freedom, peace and prosperity under a stable democracy.

The Philippines, which was then still recovering from the ravages of World War II, was the first Asian nation to send its troops to Korea. From 1950 to 1955, a total of 7,420 members of the Philippine Expeditionary Force to Korea (PEFTOK) showed extraordinary courage and dedication to duty that contributed to the victory of South Korea and its allies. Their sacrifice and bravery have laid a solid foundation for a friendship between Korea and the Philippines, which endured for more than seven decades long.

Today, Korea is commemorating the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War by holding a nationwide ceremony featuring our President Moon Jae-in of Korea and video messages of leaders from participating countries during the Korean War. I am very much thankful that President Rodrigo R. Duterte sent his special video message to this important event, stressing that “we must recognize bravery is not easy to muster. We must remember heroism is very seldom seen, and we must reaffirm values are so sacred. They form the bedrock of our special bilateral ties.” He also emphasizes that “As the world faces emerging challenges yet, let the memory of those who fell in the Korean War inspire us all to rise together, jointly in solidarity.”

I strongly agree with the President that the solidarity and sacrifice must be remembered in this difficult time when the world grapples with the pandemic, and that the Philippines and Korea should go hand-in-hand based on the spirit of solidarity that 70 years ago our predecessors have shown for defending our common values and overcoming the common challenges confronting us.

Just as the Philippines came to our aid during the Korean War, Korea is now extending its hands, not only by the government but also numerous Korean companies as well as Korean communities here, ranging from COVID-19 test kits, personal protective equipment, rice and other daily necessities, to help the Philippine government comprehensively cope with the pandemic and I have confidence that the Philippines will be able to overcome the hurdles that lie ahead.

I also want to recall that Korea recently donated 50,000 face masks to PEFTOK and the Veterans Federation of the Philippines as a token of Korea’s gratitude to the Philippines’ assistance during the Korean War through the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs. PVAI president Maj. Maximo Young considered the masks “a genuine manifestation that the South Korean government indeed shares and cares.”

Isabelita Yap-Aganon, daughter of Capt. Conrado D. Yap who was a hero of the notable Battle of Yuldong, called the face masks “a symbolic line of defense, this time around, to fight and protect us from the invisible and unforgiving enemy of humanity, the COVID-19 virus.”

Hopefully, these masks will, indeed, help our Korean War veterans and their families stay healthy and safe during these uncertain times.

Since the Korean War, our two countries have also maintained an ideal relationship in terms of defense cooperation. Korea has, in fact, been supporting the AFP modernization program, such as when Korean shipbuilder Hyundai Heavy Industries delivered on May 23rd the Philippine Navy’s first missile-capable frigate. It is aptly named BRP Jose Rizal after the Philippines’ national hero. Just as Dr. Rizal led the country toward independence, I hope this ship will help in securing the oceans that surround the Philippine archipelago.

And so, 70 years after the Korean War, as the Philippines and Korea once again unite to face a hidden enemy that is more insidious and seemingly unbeatable, I am confident that we will, like in the past, prevail with the solid friendship and alliance that has become the foundation of our bilateral relationship.

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(HAN Dong-man is Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to the Philippines)

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