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Opinion

The Philippines and France: 75 years of friendship

DIPLOMATIC POUCH - Michèle Boccoz - The Philippine Star

Today, June 26, we celebrate the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations between France and the Philippines!

It is truly an honor for me to be posted in the Philippines to witness this new chapter in our countries’ shared history. Although we find ourselves on different sides of the globe, we are united by common values that form the foundation of the Franco-Philippine partnership. This day is therefore an occasion to reflect on the past, present and future of our friendship.

Even before the Treaty of Amity was signed in Paris in 1947, French and Filipinos have already had meaningful interactions. In 1819, the adventurer Paul Proust de la Gironière arrived in Manila from Nantes and established the country’s first modern farm system in Jalajala, Rizal. The French-Philippine connection continues with Yves Leopold Germain Gaston who traveled to Silay from Normandy in the 1830s and pioneered the sugar industry of Negros.

And of course, we must remember the Ilustrados who found inspiration in the democratic and liberal values of Europe and who would later become key figures in Philippine nationhood. First among them was Dr. José Rizal, who studied ophthalmology under Dr. Louis de Wecker in Paris in 1885. It was in Biarritz where Dr. Rizal completed his second novel, El Filibusterismo, in 1891, and also where he found love in the charming French-Filipina, Nellie Boustead.

To honor the legacy and courage of Dr. José Rizal, the Philippine embassy in Paris and the Mayor of Paris unveiled last June 23 the bust of the Philippine national hero, which now stands proudly at the 9th arrondissement in Paris. Indeed, Dr. Rizal is a shining beacon of the Franco-Philippine friendship!

Throughout the years, many other milestones marked our two country’s partnership: the opening of the French embassy at the Zobel de Ayala Roxas Mansion along Dewey Boulevard in the late 1940s, the first visit of a Philippine head of state to France in 1989 and, more recently, the first visit of a French head of state to the Philippines in 2015. In between these important moments, cooperation agreements in the areas of economic exchange, defense, agriculture, higher education, science and technology, tourism and film have been signed to build the framework for our present partnership.

As nations of the Indo-Pacific, France and the Philippines share a common commitment to defend international law and multilateralism in the Indo-Pacific. This commitment is marked by a growing cooperation in defense and security, as well as in the fight against climate change. We are pleased with the fruitful relations we maintain with the Department of National Defense, the Philippine Navy and the Philippine Coast Guard and will continue to support the Philippines in the modernization of its maritime capabilities.

In 2015, the Manila Call to Action on Climate Change was launched to rally international support for the Paris Agreement. The text was read by Marion Cotillard and by then-senator Loren Legarda, a Knight in the French Legion of Honor, in the presence of then-President François Hollande and the late President Benigno Aquino III.

Last December, France, through the French Development Agency, provided 250 million euros to support local disaster response. In the same month, the French government extended $2 million for the relief and rehabilitation programs of the French NGO ACTED, UNICEF and the World Food Program to communities affected by Typhoon Odette.

As we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, France is doing its part to ensure that nobody is left behind. Through COVAX, France delivered over 6 million COVID-19 vaccines to the Philippines in 2021. Cooperation in science and in public health is a sector that we would be interested to further develop with our partners in the Philippines.

And of course, at the heart of our friendship are the people. Cultural exchanges between French and Filipinos continue to flourish as we discover more about each other through the arts. Thanks to the Alliance Française in Manila and in Cebu, as well as to our partnerships with several universities all over the country and with the Department of Education, more and more Filipinos are learning French. A growing number of Filipinos are also taking their graduate degrees in France. Dozens of French volunteers have also decided to come to the Philippines to contribute to social inclusion and helping the underprivileged.

As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of Franco-Philippine ties and chart the course for the next 75 years, we are excited to announce a rich and diverse year-long program of events organized together with our partners in the Philippines and in France.

We begin the festivities with the Philippine-French art exhibit entitled “Diamond in the Rough” at the Pinto Art Museum and the inauguration of the France-Philippines Friendship Park in Las Piñas on June 26, followed by a tribute to the great French composers courtesy of French conductor Michaël Cousteau and the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra at the Cultural Center of the Philippines on July 10. With the support of the Philippine Basketball Association, the Lyon-Villeurbanne Basketball Team will fly to Manila in August to celebrate our shared love for sport ahead of the Paris 2024 Olympics.

These are just some of the dozens of events in store for the rest of the year. I invite everyone to join us in this historic celebration as we reach new heights in the Franco-Philippine friendship.

Vive la France et vive les Philippines! Mabuhay !

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Michèle Boccoz is the Ambassador of France to the Philippines and to Micronesia. For the complete program of the 75th anniversary of French-Philippine diplomatic relations, visit www.ph.ambafrance.org.

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