The Filipino 'Mabuhay,' bayanihan and Swiss innovation

DIPLOMAT'S CORNER - Alain Gaschen - Philstar.com

Alain Gaschen is currently the Swiss Ambassador to the Philippines.

At the start of all my postings, one of the first things that I do is learn how to say hello. This may seem to be the most basic thing to do, but I found that this effort jumpstarted my integration into the culture I was about to experience. Grüezi: This all started for me in Zurich, long before I joined the diplomacy (yes, you may have to make efforts to get integrated in your own country, actually you could even experience a cultural shock) Hola and Ni Hao were usually the first words I uttered whenever I had the chance to meet someone new in Bogota and Beijing (in Paris, I didn't need to get used to the language, but had to talk much faster...) This task did not change as I begun to spend the next years of my life in Manila. Ever since I stepped foot into the country of 7,107 island (in high tide, so I've been told), I found myself to be greeted by a warm-hearted "Mabuhay." My Pinoy colleagues tell me however, that aside from being a formal greeting, the term also is used to commend someone or wish them a "long and fruitful life."

So far, I've had numerous opportunities to witness first-hand how "Mabuhay" is more than just a greeting, but also a reflection of the Filipino "Bayanihan" spirit. Despite the overwhelming odds and never-ending challenges, the people of the Philippines continue to strive for a better future for themselves and for their country-an optimism I also usually share.

Just recently, it was reported that a Filipino scientist, Catharine Aquino-Fournier, is currently leading the team at ETH Zürich that hopes to further developments in COVID-19 testing. It is my hope that this combination of Filipino-Swiss talent and spirit would result in increased innovation and a deepening relationship between our two countries.

We do not need to wait long for this to happen. In other recent news, the Philippine Department of Agriculture has tapped Switzerland based Satsure AG to assist in its effort to improve crop insurance. The company uses innovations in satellites, remote sensing, machine learning and big data analytics to provide solutions to various needs in the fields of agriculture, financial services, infrastructure and climate change mitigation.

Another effort is to maximize the fairly recent free trade agreement, or FTA, between the Philippines and European Free Trade Association member-states through a market study that aims to study the potential of Philippine exports in selected sectors to the European market. By understanding the potential of these exports, we would be boosting their competitiveness and further produce products of a global quality standard. In parallel, we also launched a study on the potential for Swiss exports to the Philippines, and I am convinced the FTA can benefit equally to both parties.

The pandemic has also led to stronger solidarity between our two countries. Swiss pharmaceuticals Roche and Novartis have significantly contributed to the Philippines' fight against COVID-19 with their respective efforts in antibody testing and donation of P19.3 million pesos to Philippine hospitals. These actions reflect the long-standing history and commitment of these companies in the Philippines. I just mention two of our big pharmaceutical companies, but they just represent the tip of the iceberg, we have so many successful SMEs, our hidden champions, as I call them.

The way we interact has also been affected by the pandemic. While firm handshakes, hugs or beso (the Filipino term for cheek kisses, I am quite familiar with the term from my Colombian experience) were acceptable ways of greetings, physical distancing dictates that these actions be avoided. Large gatherings, including the 1st of August National Day celebrations, are also frowned upon in the new normal that we face. In a way, this has pushed us to innovate the way we celebrate an event known for its gastronomic delights, nostalgic sights and sounds, and overflowing sense of community. In a time where almost everything is online, why should a National Day celebration be any different?

This is why from 27 July-7 August, I am excited to take part in our first ever #MabuhaySwitzerland 1st of August National Day celebration. For the first time, the Swiss Embassy in Manila and its partners will hold different efforts to celebrate an important Swiss holiday. We hope that you can join us as we organize ways to taste Swiss gastronomic delights, see Swiss sights and hear Swiss sounds—all from the comfort of your own home. The event is also an avenue for us to recognize the Filipino "Mabuhay" and "Bayanihan" spirit, as we highlight innovations in the Philippines brought about by Swiss and Filipino collaboration.

Aside from this, www.missione1agosto.org is now online! The platform has DIY activities, videos, and a global contest that will result in prizes for those who choose to accept this mission. Ten months ago, I would have never imagined that my first National Day celebration will be done in front of a computer instead of a gathering of friends and colleagues. However, if there is one thing that I have learned, it is that optimism is abundant among Filipinos, and it is that quality that will help us weather the challenges we all face today.



Prior to this assignment, Ambassador Gaschen served as the deputy head of mission of the Swiss Embassy in Beijing from 2015 - 2019. He also held the same designation in the Swiss Embassy in Paris in 2001.






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