IN a span of four years, the Philippines and France have enhanced and strengthened their bilateral relations in a dynamic way that has never happened during the 65 years of their diplomatic relations. This started with the historic visit to the Philippines of Prime Minister Jean Marc Ayrault in 2012. PM Ayrault’s visit reopened the doors for dialogue, understanding, cooperation and partnership between the two countries. As stated by President Francois Hollande, there is now “a common will between our two countries, common commitments, common engagements.”
The visit of PM Ayrault on October 19-21, 2012 was the first made by a French head of government to the Philippines since the two countries’ establishment of diplomatic relations. This visit was a big political milestone in Philippine-French relations because it was an affirmation of the deepening ties between our two nations. The two leaders agreed to reactivate the regular political consultation process of foreign ministers, the Joint Economic Committee and the Defense Cooperation Arrangement, which would all lead to a focused and coherent direction of our bilateral engagement in all areas. PM Ayrault and President Benigno S. Aquino Jr. also agreed to accelerate the pace of economic cooperation and to continue the partnership in the areas of climate change and sustainable development.
President Aquino reciprocated the French PM’s visit when he accepted an invitation of President Hollande for an official visit to France on September 17-19, 2014. In a joint statement, the two leaders underscored the importance of maintaining maritime security, freedom of navigation and the peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with international law, including UNCLOS.
On February 26-27, 2015, it was President Hollande’s turn to visit the Philippines. This was the first visit of a French head of state to the Philippines. The two Presidents signed the French-Philippine Joint Declaration on Enhanced Partnership.
They acknowledged that both countries have entered a new and future-oriented era in the development of bilateral relations to include the active participation of local and regional governments, private sector and civil society. They welcomed the conclusion of agreements on higher education and research, and in the development of the tourism sector of the Philippines. Finally, they stressed the importance of fighting climate change and launched the Manila Call to Action on Climate Change.
Milestones have been achieved with the exchange of visits of PM Ayrault, President Aquino and President Hollande. The Joint Statement and the Joint Declaration on Enhanced Partnership affirmed the development of a robust partnership between the two nations. Because of our political engagement with France, the Philippines improved its standing in that country, as well as the international community.
Philippine Airlines (PAL) has also been removed from the EU Air Carriers Blacklist.
This would pave the way for easier travel and increased tourism in the Philippines.
The Philippines has also been dropped from the French Tax Haven Blacklist, thus adding an incentive for French companies to invest in our country.
French investment in the Philippines has increased. A number of agreements have been signed in the areas of transportation and renewable energy. While France is the Philippines’ second biggest trading partner in the EU, there is still room for growth and improvement. Many French companies have the expertise in areas that have high growth potential in the Philippines, and we should welcome them as partners, particularly into infrastructure and transport projects. The Philippines is a big market for Airbus, and the demand can get bigger as we develop our tourism industry. Thus, we should invite France’s participation in this area as well. Other areas where prospects are bright include health infrastructure and agribusiness.
Our renewed Defense Cooperation Agreement could enhance France’s participation in the modernization program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). We should look into forging more defense cooperation agreements with France and not rely only on traditional defense and security partners. France is one of the leading producers of defense equipment and materials. It is willing to transfer technology for defense products 10 years older or more and is ready to give training and education.
We could start with maintenance and repair operations in air and maritime transport vessels. The Philippines is an archipelago and has a long coastline to defend. We need to develop a defense industry to support our defense strategies especially in the face of our maritime disputes in the West Philippine Sea.
We have gained another milestone with the holding of the landmark exhibition, Philippines-Archipelago of Exchanges, as it was the first major exhibition in France dedicated to the Philippine archipelago in 20 years, and was an excellent opportunity for us to showcase our culture to France and Europe. From this high profile event, we hope to promote more cultural initiatives, including in the areas of arts, language promotion, and educational exchanges, especially with the implementation of the renewed Philippine-French Executive Program for Culture and Arts.
President Hollande came to our country “to seal an alliance with the Philippines” on climate change. It is not just to promote the Paris Climate Conference but to push for “linking developed and emerging countries, to assure energy transition, protection and prevention. France wants to put its technologies, its expertise, in the service of countries that are most vulnerable,” such as the Philippines. As it supports the principle of adaptation, the French Development Agency in the Philippines has financed over 300 million euros worth of technical assistance in this area.
This momentum of cooperation and engagement should be continued. The recent achievements should inspire us to reach new heights and conquer new horizons in our bilateral relations.