Magkaibigan tayong tunay: We are true friends

DIPLOMATIC POUCH - Han Dong-Man (The Philippine Star) - September 20, 2020 - 12:00am

It has been more than two and a half years since I had the honor of serving here in Manila as the Ambassador of Korea to the Philippines. Every time September approaches, I am reminded of a time when more than 7,000 Filipino soldiers went to Korea to uphold democracy and peace, and it allows me to solemnly consider the root of Korea-Philippine friendship. This year was no exception.

Last September 9th, I was privileged to be part of the 21st Korean War Veterans of the Philippines Memorial Day celebrations. On that occasion, Water Young, on behalf of his father, veteran Major Maximo Young, said, “We must be proud to know that the Philippines was the very first Asian country that answered the call for help during that urgent time of need. The fighting soldiers and men of PEFTOK (Philippine Expeditionary Forces to Korea) treated the South Korean people as our very own people, as our brothers and sisters.”

He also expressed thanks, saying that during the pandemic various donations of face masks, testing kits as well as goods and other personal protective equipment were made to PEFTOK members. I would say that continuing to help and care for the veterans and their families is just a small thing compared to their sacrifice, because I am convinced that the Korea of today would not be enjoying democracy without the contribution and sacrifice of the Korean War veterans.

Major Young once said in an interview that he sometimes finds it difficult to relate the country where he fought in the 1950s to what Korea is now. Yes, it is true, but Korea will never forget. Remembering history, Korea has been making every effort to further its partnership and friendship with the Philippines. There is a popular saying, “A friend in need is a friend indeed.” Amid the pandemic, the Korean government, along with Korean companies, in its continuing commitment to assisting its war allies, has been providing protective face masks and COVID-19 testing kits to augment the Philippine government’s efforts against the pandemic. Through the Korea International Cooperation Agency, it is contributing vital resources such as rice, medicine and medical supply, as well as personal protective equipment for frontliners. To assist the country detect and respond to future public health challenges, Korea is also committing $500,000 to the Philippines through the Korea-ASEAN Cooperation Fund and $100 million in immediate budget support through the Economic Development Cooperation Fund (EDCF).

For sure, partnership and friendship between Seoul and Manila have developed at all levels, from the government-to-government to people-to-people. In particular, people-to-people exchange is important as it contributes to deepening mutual understanding and friendship between Koreans and Filipinos, thereby further solidifying the foundation of Seoul-Manila relations. Before the pandemic, Koreans comprised the most number of tourists in the Philippines, while more and more Filipinos had been flying to Korea to have their K-Pop or K-Drama moment. Our peoples’ friendship has also been affirmed by individuals such as K-Pop sensation Sandara Park, who started her career in the Philippines, Sen. Manny Pacquiao, who last year was designated as honorary ambassador for friendship between the two countries, Ryan Bang, who is a Korean entertainer beloved in the Philippines, and SB19, a Filipino boy band trained by a Korean entertainment company. The two governments also joined such efforts, including but not limited to the Korean Cultural Center here in the Philippines and the ASEAN-Korea Center and ASEAN Culture House in Korea.

With all these efforts combined, the friendship between future generations from the two countries is strong and solid, and I am confident it is expected to be further strengthened in the future. Likewise, it is my sincere hope that our two countries, in these trying times, will again overcome a common foe, COVID-19, by working together, just as our forefathers did 70 years ago in the Korean Peninsula.

Sama-sama tayong maglakbay nang nakasandal sa ating matibay na pagkakaibigan at samahan. (Let’s go together based on our solid friendship and partnership.)

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The author is the Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to the Philippines.

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