Maintaining the momentum

INPHINITELY YOURS - Shambhu S. Kumaran - The Philippine Star

As the Philippines completes its six-yearly political transition, with the recent, impressively conducted national elections, the time is opportune to look back at the India-Philippines relationship over the Duterte presidency. It is equally an opportunity to assess the future of this growing partnership between two of Asia’s largest democracies.

President Duterte’s ‘independent foreign policy’ and its strong synergies with Prime Minister Modi’s ‘Act East’ and ‘SAGAR’ policies provided the much needed, and hitherto missing, structural rationale for enhanced bilateral engagement. Regular dialogue, especially at leadership level, helped guide our respective government structures to explore specific initiatives for cooperation across sectors.

COVID-19 and its aftermath only underlined the rationale for both countries to strengthen the partnership, especially to secure health requirements of our large populations. Be it in terms of availability, accessibility or affordability, India has cemented its place as the leading supplier of pharma products to the Philippines.

Combined with ongoing mutually beneficial engagement in the digital economy, in particular the BPO and IT enabled services, our bilateral partnership is now anchored in these two critical sectors.

We have also made concrete progress in our fledgling defense and security partnership. The contract for Brahmos missiles from India in January this year marked more than a step to meet legitimate national security objectives of the Philippines. It is a manifestation of the determination of both countries to end decades of strategic indifference and a shared recognition of the deeper value of our partnership in the emerging geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific.

This year alone, for the first time in several years, we exchanged foreign minister level visits, reflecting the new intensity in our engagement. The visits of Minister S. Jaishankar to the Philippines in February and the return visit of Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin to India in April were remarkable for the depth of their conversations and the shared desire to nurture this new energy in our ties.

It is not an exaggeration to say that relations between India and the Philippines today are at their best ever. During my courtesy call on President Duterte a few days ago, I thanked him for his vision and remarkable contribution that has helped elevate the trajectory of our ties.

That said, an even better future awaits our bilateral partnership.

I had the honor of being among the first foreign envoys to call on president-elect Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. recently, during which I handed over a letter of felicitations from Prime Minister Modi on his resounding election victory.

President-elect Marcos has outlined an ambitious agenda of national renewal and growth for the Philippines, despite the difficult global environment due to conflict in Europe and the lingering consequences of the pandemic. I sensed his strong determination to move ahead and quiet confidence in realizing his plans.

I emphasized that India would walk shoulder to shoulder in this effort.

Specifically, both countries would work together in enhancing local capacities in pharmaceuticals and across the broader health sector. I am happy that initial engagement between leading Indian pharma players and the new administration has commenced.

In agriculture, another key priority for the incoming administration, India will be an indispensable partner. Across the value chain from ‘seeds to satellites,’ Indian agriculture is now a global success story. From a foodgrain-importing nation in the 1970s, India is today an exporter of agri-products, with a value of $50 billion last year alone.

Indian agri-tech can be of great value to the Philippines. Last month, we held a workshop on Prime Minister’s flagship crop insurance scheme for officials of the Departments of Finance, Agriculture and PCIC. Over the past year, the embassy has organized four sectoral conferences on agriculture with various stakeholders in the Philippines. More initiatives will follow.

I also briefed president-elect Marcos on Prime Minister Modi’s transformational initiatives in digital governance, especially in direct benefit transfers using national IDs and for financial inclusion. These initiatives have ushered in an unprecedented era of empowerment in India and enhanced the welfare of underprivileged sections of our population even during the pandemic.

As the Philippines establishes its own national ID, where an Indian company is working as the Systems Integrator, and unveils new financial measures to support local small and medium enterprises for a sharp and sustained recovery, India’s experience will prove useful.

The promise of a new India-Philippines partnership, focused on the twin pillars of our respective developmental and national security objectives, has never been brighter. The task now is to maintain the momentum.

*      *      *

Shambhu S. Kumaran is the Ambassador of India to the Philippines.

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