It has been a little more than a month since I arrived in Manila as the new Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to the Philippines. The warm welcome and fruitful exchanges I have experienced so far gave me a glimpse of the deep friendship between our two countries. Our close ties have significantly grown ever since the Philippines sent 7,420 soldiers to defend democracy and peace in Korea during the Korean War. During Korea’s post-war recovery, the Philippines assisted in the country’s rehabilitation as a member of the UN Commission for the Unification and Rehabilitation of Korea.
I regard the Filipinos’ valuable contribution to the reconstruction of Korea’s public structures as the beginning of Korea-Philippine infrastructure cooperation. In 1962, Korea was able to build Jangchung Arena, the first dome-style indoor stadium, with the help of Filipino engineers. Jangchung Arena has hosted major sporting events up to this day.
The rapid industrialization in Korea in the 1970s then ushered the fast development of its construction industry. Korea’s own engineers and builders have participated in constructing facilities such as railroads and dams in the Middle East and Asia. Hanjin Heavy Industries, one of Korea’s top construction firms, built a road near General Santos City in 1973. I heard from high-level Philippine officials that this road is still in good condition.
Hanjin also invested $1.7 billion to build the largest shipyard in the Philippines, creating more than 28,000 jobs. This significant investment in Subic, Zambales made the Philippines the fifth largest shipbuilding country in the world. Another infrastructure investment is the Angat Dam Project by K-Water and San Miguel consortium, which provides more than 80 percent of Metro Manila’s water supply.
Infrastructure cooperation between our two countries has remained steadfast up to this day. Thanks to the Korean Government’s soft loan program (EDCF) and the effort of a Korean construction firm, the Puerto Princesa Airport Development project was successfully completed last year. The Panguil Bay Bridge Project ($100 million) and the Jalaur River Multi-purpose Project ($208 million) are expected to start construction this year through the support of EDCF. The Korean government also pledged a $180 million soft loan for the Cebu International Container Port and is considering an upgrade to the Laguindingan Airport. In terms of energy infrastructure, Korean companies have built coal power plants in the country such as in Masinloc, Zambales, and there are plans to construct more power plants such as in Sual, Pangasinan.
I am optimistic that the momentum of our infrastructure cooperation will be further boosted as the Philippines enters its Golden Age of Infrastructure. Under the ambitious “Build, Build, Build” program, the Philippines will invest $180 billion in infrastructure development. I have expressed my support to this goal when I presented my letter of credence to President Duterte. I encourage more Korean companies to “Invest, Invest, Invest” in the infrastructure sector of the Philippines. Many Korean companies already have keen interest in participating in future infrastructure projects.
I can already see opportunities for further cooperation during my recent visit to Cebu, Davao, Clark and Subic. For example, Korea’s advanced technology in the development of its green and smart cities can support the development of Clark Green City, the first smart city in the Philippines. This project is also aligned with the Duterte administration’s focus on regional development.
There is much potential for stronger cooperation as the Philippine government pushes its infrastructure agenda. I believe that taking advantage of these opportunities can lead to the golden era of Korea-Philippine infrastructure cooperation.