NOTES FROM THE EU DELEGATION - Luc Véron - The Philippine Star

I was looking for a word to capture my impression of 2022, two years after Nicole and I arrived in the Philippines. A year ago, I was reminiscing in this column about being “ushered through the ghost-like alleys” of NAIA… It was indeed Dec. 14, 2020, an eternity ago, a time of quarantine and face shields. Who remembers the face shields and NAIA’s empty corridors? Our puppy Malinois Kaya was yet to be born. She looks up as I type these words, sighs and curls up under the desk, my big, sweet dog!

It is said that people, countries and puppies only get one chance to make a first impression. While puppies are always loveable at first sight, for people and nations, it may require time or imagination. For example, I immediately fell in love with the Philippines because I chose to take my Filipino friends at their word and imagined a country that would be “reopened” – and that’s the word I was looking for.

As a result of this reopening, I still find it a strange experience to meet an old “Zoom acquaintance” for the first time in the flesh. However, the most remarkable re-opening was the restart of face-to-face classes on 22 August after more than a two-year hiatus. Despite laudable hybrid education efforts, nothing can replace going to school every day and interacting with teachers and schoolmates. On 15 August, Nicole and I sat on our bench at Caridad Elementary in Pilar eight months after Super Typhoon Odette’s landfall washed out the school grounds and buildings. We planted mung beans with the children as a symbol of rebirth. Finally, the school was ready to reopen. After Odette, the EU and its member-countries donated P920 million in humanitarian assistance to the Philippines.

Ninth of May is Europe Day, but it was also Election Day this year. To avoid any interference, the 17 EU ambassadors here celebrated with Manileño families the evening before at Luneta Park by illuminating the Rizal Monument and the Musical Dancing Fountain in EU blue and yellow. A simple and peaceful evening of friendship for which I am very grateful to the National Parks Development Committee. And we went to bed early because we all woke up early the following day, including foreign diplomats who wanted to witness the millions of Filipinos electing their government. Before dawn, I was at Tambo Elementary school in Parañaque and continued to visit many schools in NCR’s fourth district that day. Like my colleagues, I was impressed by the civic fervor of the voters and the thousands of volunteers, e.g., of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV). However, the image that stuck in me is from the next day at the PPCRV command center at the University of Santo Tomas Quadricentennial Pavilion: this group of nuns studiously authenticating a batch of electoral returns, among dozens of others, primarily students and volunteers.

I do not fancy the word “revenge,” not even next to shopping or travel. “Revenge travel” against whom? However, one of the joys of 2022 was that foreigners could revisit the Philippines again and diplomats could get out of Manila more freely. So I seized the opportunity with great appetite and visited Quezon Province, Cebu, Bohol, Antique, the Negroses and Siargao. So many encounters, shared meals, thousands of pictures and life memories. Of course, all these trips had a purpose, such as visiting an EU project (environment, energy, culture, women empowerment…). Still, the real goal was always to meet people (elected officials, entrepreneurs and civic organizations). Meeting people is the essence of diplomatic work. I should also mention that, in 2022, I visited Bangsamoro twice, where the EU has invested politically in the normalization and socio-economic development for a long time and financially, currently to the tune of P8.9 billion.

Meeting people is something I enjoy doing anywhere, and one of the projects I am most proud of is the series “EU You Talk,” the short interviews with young (arbitrarily fixed at age 40) Filipino talents that I broadcast on YouTube. The 2022 season was vibrant with humanitarian activist Anshe Talavera, actresses and activists Antoinette Taus and Nadine Lustre, movie producer Carlos Valenzona, urban artist Egg Fiasco, student actor Archel Baragoya and fashion designer Twinkle Ferraren. There is so much talent, energy and creativity in the Philippines. Speaking of talent, I was delighted to meet editor and writer Angelo R. Lacuesta this year finally. I had read many of Sarge’s short pieces, but I was elated to read his first novel, “Joy: a novel” (Penguin Book, 2022). With the voice of a son attempting to find the proper emotional distance from a mostly absent father, Lacuesta gives his full measure of vignette writing, a must-read Filipino novel.

As the year ended, the leaders of the EU and its 27 member-countries were proud to welcome the President of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., in Brussels for the EU-ASEAN summit in which the Philippines played a pivotal role as the ASEAN coordinator for dialogue with the EU. President Marcos’ meeting with European political and business leaders symbolized his priority to reopen the Philippines nationally after COVID and internationally for trade, partnership and investment.

In 2023, I am looking forward to more encounters, discovery and friendship. But for now, Maligayang Pasko at Manigong Bagong Taon sa inyong lahat!

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Luc Véron is Ambassador of the European Union to the Philippines.

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