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Opinion

A story of trailblazing

DIPLOMATIC POUCH - R?du?a Dana Matache - The Philippine Star

Fifty years ago to the day, Romania and the Philippines announced the establishment of diplomatic relations. In 1972, the world was a different place. An Iron Curtain hung between countries, dividing them into opposing blocks. The Philippines and Romania then had the audacity and foresight to go against prevailing customs and establish diplomatic relations across divisions and blocks. We were trailblazers. Romania was the very first country in Eastern Europe with which the Philippines decided to open diplomatic relations.

By 1972, it was abundantly clear that Romanians and Filipinos had much in common: proud peoples, a long and troubled history of greedy empires trying, and often succeeding, to rule over us, a deep commitment to peace, diplomacy and cooperation, as well as a wealth of heritage to preserve and to contribute to the world.

In the early 1970’s, it was the Romulo Report that recommended the establishment of relations between the Philippines and countries in Eastern Europe. Romania was the first to act on it.

In 1975, the first edition of Noli Me Tángere, by Dr. José Rizal, was published in Romania, in a beautiful translation. This was the single most important act that opened the eyes of Romanians to the history of the Philippines and its struggle for independence, sovereignty and unity, mirroring our own struggle. To this day, like many Romanians, I cherish this book, an important part of the universal patrimony.

Also in 1975, the first Filipino resident ambassador to Romania was appointed. To the surprise of many, it was a Filipina, the first woman ambassador ever sent to Romania and one of the very first worldwide: Leticia Ramos Shahani. An accomplished diplomat and a dedicated politician, she went on to become a towering figure in the Philippines as senator, and internationally, as the UN Assistant Secretary General for Social and Humanitarian Affairs. She initiated and introduced the original draft of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Though she passed away in 2017, in spirit and deeds she is still with us.

Another outstandingly bright Filipina worked as a diplomat at the newly established embassy in Bucharest. Though a junior diplomat, she made herself a name in the diplomatic circles in Bucharest and well beyond them. She went on to be appointed by former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as the foreign minister of the Philippines and the first ever woman career diplomat to become foreign minister in Asia: Delia Domingo Albert. A most inspiring story of love and trailblazing about her was published by this paper on its front page of the Feb. 14, 2011 edition, under the title “Love in the time of discrimination” (https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2011/02/14/656985/love-time-discrimination). A very worthwhile read, indeed.

During half a century, though our relations have had ups and downs, the bonds between our peoples have grown consistently stronger. In 1986 the Romanians followed, from a distance, as much as the censorship allowed, the EDSA revolution. In 1989, we decided that it was time for our own revolution to free the country from dictatorship. Transitions following these events were not easy in any of our countries but we prevailed.

Today, Romania and the Philippines are close partners looking together at a wealth of opportunities for joint action that open for us. We have agreed to step up cooperation in several areas, including disaster prevention and management, as well as cybersecurity. Our trade in services is taking off, as Romanian businessmen grow interested in the BPO world-class facilities that the Philippines has to offer and are open to joining hands virtually with the Filipino IT sector in fighting cybercrime.

The number of tourists in the beautiful Philippine islands as well as in the Romanian Carpathian Mountains, castles and monasteries is increasing. Every year, Romania offers more scholarships for Filipino students. Some Filipinos, such as our X Factor laureate Bella Santiago, now call Romania home.

Our profiles are complementary, Romania as a member of the EU and NATO, and the Philippines as a founding member of ASEAN and part of a region which becomes a world economic powerhouse and an area of global strategic importance. We learn from each other and exchange good practices.

Romania and the Philippines are champions of bio-diversity in their respective regions. Our cooperation in multilateral organizations, especially in the United Nations and the International Maritime Organization, is intense and mutually rewarding. Our countries work together for a world, which is ruled by international law, where peaceful solutions to disputes are the norm and where every citizen has the opportunity to live in peace and fulfill his or her dreams.

Long live Philippine-Romania relations! There are many trails to be blazed ahead of us.

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R?du?a Dana Matache is Ambassador of Romania to the Philippines.

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