THE 70th anniversary of the establishment of relations between the Philippines and Brazil is just around the corner. The mere fact that the two countries have long-standing relations is enough reason to celebrate.
Brazil was one of the first countries in 1946 to recognize the Philippines as a sovereign state. At first, relations were conducted on a non-resident basis, with the Philippine Embassy in Washington accredited to handle them. The country opened a resident embassy in 1965 in Rio de Janeiro, then the capital of Brazil. To encourage the country to transfer its embassy to Brasilia, the Brazilian Government donated a lot, and today the Philippine Embassy residence and chancery stand majestically on a 2.5 hectare lot along Avenida das Nacoes, Distrito Federal, Brasilia.
During my posting in Brazil, between 2010 and 2014, I was fortunate to have participated in and contributed to developments that have raised relations between the Philippines and Brazil to a new, higher level.
Brazil and the Philippines have always been important players in global and regional affairs. Brazil is a prime mover of Mercosur (Southern Common Market) and Unasul (Union of South American Nations). It has been among the first countries in the two South American organizations to foster closer ties with Asean. In 2012, Brazil acceded to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia and expressed interest in becoming an Asean dialogue partner.
The economic status of Brazil today suggests that Brazil’s candidature to be a dialogue partner will have to be taken quite seriously by Asean. It is the world’s seventh largest economy, one of the group of emerging economic powers known by the acronym BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), and a member of the G20 nations.
Brazil is the largest trading partner of the Philippines in Latin America. Bilateral trade has been increasing through the years. In 2013, the Philippine Department of Trade and Investments established the Philippine Trade and Investment Center in Sao Paulo to take care of commercial interests not only in Brazil but also with other Latin American countries. Last month, the Philippine Embassy in Brasilia launched the Brazil-Philippines Business Cooperation Forum.
TeconSuape, S.S. (TSSA), a subsidiary of the International Container Terminal Services Inc. (ICTSI) of the Philippines, situated in Pernambuco, Brazil is known as the largest and most modern facility for container operations in the northern and northeastern regions of Brazil and a busy hub for European-Latin American trade.
On the Brazilian side, VALE S.A., a mining multinational company and world leader in the production of iron ore and nickel, has an important presence in the Philippines with its floating transfer stations in Subic Bay used in transporting iron ore between South America and Asia.
To enhance connectivity, the Philippines-Brazil Air Services Agreement was negotiated and concluded in 2013. After the signing, the Philippine Airlines announced opening future flights between Manila and Brazil. Unfortunately these flights have yet to materialize. While there are few Filipino OFWs in Brazil, the outbound Brazilian tourist traffic, due to the growing affluence of Brazilians, is absolutely nothing to sneeze at.
It is notable that the Philippines and Brazil have shared advocacies on global issues, such as good governance, social justice, environmental preservation, among others. Both countries are active members of the Open Government Partnership launched in 2011. An initiative of US President Barack Obama, the OGP is a platform aimed at making governments more open, accountable, and responsive to citizens’ needs, in partnership with civil society and stakeholders.
According to the World Bank, the Conditional Cash Transfer programs of Brazil and the Philippines are two of the biggest conditional social safety net programs among developing countries. Brazil’s Bolsa Familia, which later evolved into Zero Fome (Zero Hunger) and Sem Miseria (No Poverry), has lifted 42 million Brazilians from poverty.
The first Brazil-Philippines Joint Commission Meeting on Bioenergy Cooperation was held in Brasilia in 2013. The meeting revitalized the existing bilateral energy agreement, ushering in more exchanges of experts, technology and innovation in biofuels. To mark the deepening of the two countries’ cooperation in environmental protection, the Brazilian Correios (Postal Service) issued in 2014 a commemorative stamp featuring the Philippine eagle and the Brazilian crowned eagle.
Brazil’s preeminence in sports has been recognized globally with its hosting of the 2014 Football World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics. While it did not win the 2014 World Cup, Brazil has been the most prolific winner in the competition. Brazilians are said to be born with a football in hand. On 23 March 2013, the Philippine Sports Commission and Brazil’s Ministry of Sports signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Cooperation in Sports providing a framework for sports cooperation through exchanges in areas such as science and technology applied to sports, sports medicine combating doping, using sports as a tool for social inclusion, and training of sports specialists and practitioners. A few months ago, Mr. Bernard Vassas, director of Equinox do Brasil and and consultant of Fluminence Football Club of Rio visited sports clubs in the Philippines, bringing impetus to cooperation in football and beach volleyball. Football, in particular, has not only been a medium of entertainment in Brazil. It is in fact a serious matter to Brazilians, serving as it does as an instrument for national and social cohesion.
As a drumming-up event of the 2016 Summer Olympics, Brazil recently inaugurated in Tocatins, Brazil the World Games for Indigenous Peoples, in which teams from the Igorot and Aeta communities of the Philippines participated.
Indeed during the 70th anniversary of their relations the Philippines and Brazil can raise a toast to the great potentials for their expanded and intensified relations in the future to the mutual benefit of their peoples. Surely, many good things are yet to come!
Eva G. Betita was Ambassador to Brazil ,Colombia, Guyana, and Suriname from 2010 to 2014. She is a member of the Board of Governors of the Philippine Ambassadors Foundation, Inc.