The past year has been an exceptional year in bilateral relations between India and the Philippines. The circumstances for this were also opportune. India’s Act East Policy is gaining strength – embracing the countries of the Asean region as central to this policy. The Philippines is also looking for new partners in Asia. As two robust democracies that believe in the rule of law, have open pluralistic societies, young demographics and rapidly growing economies, it is therefore but natural that India and the Philippines should look toward each other.
This is also a time when we have leadership in both our countries who are seen as agents of change. They are bold and visionary, unafraid to question earlier ways of doing things and with new agendas departing radically from how things were done in the past.
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in Manila in November, he spoke of financial inclusion, banking for all, cashless transactions and direct transfers to beneficiaries – all facilitated by a universal identity card system. This is bringing hundreds of millions of Indians into the financial system and eliminating corruption in the distribution of benefits. These are also areas that the Philippines is interested in and I am happy that India is now sharing this experience with the Philippines. The Philippines is interested in world class medicines at affordable cost, and here too we are working together to make this happen. In this age of globalization, Indian companies are building and operating airports in the Philippines and Filipino companies are constructing airports and LNG terminals in India.
Whether it is in combating terrorism or in promoting our common cultural heritage, this has been an exceptional year. India was one of the first countries to come forward with aid for the people of Marawi. Indian made body armour kept Filipino soldiers safe in Marawi. Our Prime Minister was moved by the performance of Rama Hari at the opening ceremony of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the founding of Asean. A troupe from Mindanao is presently performing the Ramayana in cities in India. Our bilateral cooperation extends from Defense, on which we signed an MoU during the visit of our Prime Minister to Manila in November, to the area of Investment, which was the subject of an MoU signed yesterday during President Duterte’s visit to India. Today India is the fastest growing source of inbound tourism for the Philippines, with Indians having heard that ‘it is more fun in the Philippines’. And the potential for this is enormous considering that Indians are taking to travelling abroad in a big way.
In an age of unpredictable changes in technology impacting global production systems and resulting in enormous disruptions, both our countries with young populations, strong education systems and strength in services, are well equipped to adjust and adapt and learn from each other. When more and more of manufacturing will require less and less of human intervention, this will give rise to challenges but will also present new opportunities. Just as the IT -ITES sector has been an area of great complementarity and cooperation between India and the Philippines, so also these new opportunities will bring about areas that we can cooperate that we have not envisioned today.
Nothing exemplifies more strongly the importance that India attaches to our relations with Asean, and individually with each Asean country, than the fact that today all ten Asean leaders are in New Delhi as Chief Guests at India’s Republic Day. And the presence of all the ten Asean leaders in New Delhi is proof that this bond is reciprocated. Indeed, we have no dispute with any country in the region. And with each country in Asean, we would only like to build further on our warm constructive relations.
The year has started on a high note with the first ever visit of President Duterte to India. This is only the third visit of a President of the Philippines to India in the sixty-nine year history of our bilateral relations. A new beginning has been made and the future of looks brighter than ever before.