64th anniversary of long lasting friendship

DIPLOMATIC POUCH - U Lwin Oo (The Philippine Star) - October 11, 2020 - 12:00am

The Philippines and Myanmar established diplomatic relations in 1956 and Sept. 29, 2020 marks the 64th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the Philippines and Myanmar. Since we traveled together over 64 years, may I honorably discourse about bilateral relations.

The Philippines and Myanmar must be termed “good neighbors” even though situated at the opposite edge of Southeast Asia. The Philippines is located at the strategic point which can control the maritime passage of SEA countries and China. Similarly, Myanmar’s position is like a land bridge that links between SEA and South Asia.

There has been lots of exchange of visits at high level as well as senior officials level between the two countries since the establishment of diplomatic relations between Philippines and Myanmar.

Former president Fidel Ramos paid a state visit to the Union of Myanmar in October 1997. During that visit, Myanmar and Philippines signed MOU on bilateral visa exemptions for holder of diplomatic and official passports from both countries.

At the first meeting of the Myanmar-Philippines Joint Commission for Bilateral Cooperation held in Yangon in April 2004, the Philippines proposed visa exemption for Myanmar ordinary passport holders up to 21 days. Following the second (Manila, June 2012) and third (Nay Pyi Taw, May 2019) meetings of the Myanmar-Philippines JCBC, the two countries signed an air service agreement which further expanded the rights of either countries’ designated airlines, facilitating air travel between the two countries. Moreover, the first Philippines-Myanmar Policy Consultations was held in Manila in June 2006.

On May 25, 2008, in the wake of the devastation wrought by Cyclone Nargis which claimed the lives of thousands in Myanmar’s Irrawaddy Delta, Sen. Richard Gordon led a high-level Philippine delegation to the ASEAN-UN International Pledging Conference in Yangon at which the Philippines made a commitment to send a 30-man medical team, bringing with them medicines and relief goods, plus the use of a C-130 aircraft. The Philippines also pledged a $500,000 cash donation. The total value of the Philippines’ contribution to the relief effort amounted to $350,000, excluding contributions of private companies and charitable organizations. As a reciprocal gesture, Myanmar sent  humanitarian assistance commodities for Typhoon Haiyan victims with two sorties of Y-8 aircraft. Myanmar also donated $100,000 cash to the people who were affected by the serial eruptions of Mayon Volcano in January 2018.

Former President U Thein Sein paid a goodwill visit to the Philippines on Dec. 4-6, 2013. During the visit, visa exemption for ordinary passport holders from the two countries up to 14 days was signed. Five MoUs were also signed. Former president Benigno Aquino III visited Myanmar in November 2014 to attend ASEAN Summit and other related meetings.

At the invitation of former president U Htin Kyaw, President Rodrigo Duterte paid an official visit to Myanmar in March 2017. During the visit, the renewed MoU on Food Security and Agriculture Cooperation, signed in 2013, was signed.

After the bilateral meeting with State Counsellor, Mr. Duterte handed over a check for $300,000 as communication assistance for the communities in Rakhine State.

The National Commission for Culture and the Arts led by Felipe de Leon Jr. joined Thura U Aung Ko, Union Minister of Culture and Religious Affairs, in a bilateral meeting and signing of an executive program on cultural cooperation in May 2019, part of the strengthening of cultural ties between the countries.

Bilateral trade between Myanmar and Philippines has been nominal in the past 50 years. Bilateral economic and trade relations have gradually increased year by year. However, the volume of trade between the two countries is not very significant so far, although there has been frequent exchange of visits of business delegations. The Ayala group, jointly with Yoma Holding Company of Myanmar, has invested about $273 million mostly for infrastructure projects in Myanmar.

In the education sector, about 200 Myanmar students are currently attending Philippine universities studying agriculture, education, business management and theology with diploma, bachelor, master and PhD. Also of significance is that there are some 25 flying students who are being trained in different flying schools in the Philippines.

The Philippines and Myanmar are now in very warm and close relations. The present bilateral relationship is at its best and clearly reflects the old proverb, “A friend in need is a friend indeed.” Mutual trust, friendship, understanding and support between two countries generate mutual benefits and real treasure for the Philippines and Myanmar.

For the time being, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused over a million deaths and 34.1 million infected around the world since nine months ago. In this respect, the Philippines and Myanmar are fighting the pandemic with its own resources and with the international and bilateral assistance from friends and well wishers. Both countries have taken “whole of nation, no one left behind” approach to respond to the prevention and mitigation of the pandemic. Even with the travel restrictions during pandemic, regular relief flights are flown directly between Manila and Yangon and passengers from both countries travel conveniently.

Finally, even though the location of both countries is the furthest in miles compared with other ASEAN nations, it is firmly believable that the heart-to-heart contact of the peoples will surely continue the closest possible friendship as we mark the “64th Anniversary of Long Lasting Friendship.”

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The author is the Ambassador of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar to the Philippines.

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