IN strengthening bilateral relations between the Philippines and China, diplomatic activities and cultural exchanges between the two countries at the state-to-state and people-to-people levels are pivotal ingredients in enhancing mutual understanding, cooperation, friendship, and resolving differences and conflicts of interests.

In the same manner that the inter-state relations between the two countries are fundamental, people-to-people ties are thus far one of the building blocks that strongly bind the bilateral relations of the Philippines and China.

People-to-people ties

One of the instrumental and pivotal factors that helped establish and strengthen the official diplomatic ties between the Philippines and China is people-to-people relations. Before the establishment of official diplomatic ties between the two countries, the Association for Philippines-China Understanding (APCU), a non-government organization (NGO) based in the Philippines, was already active in promoting people-to-people relations between the two countries.

APCU is the pioneer and leading NGO in the Philippines for promoting people-to-people diplomacy, bilateral/mutual understanding, and friendship between the Philippines and China through (a) cultural, academic, and visit exchanges; (b) sisterhood between Philippine local government units (LGUs) and Chinese LGUs; and (c) economic and trade cooperation and partnership.

As part of its programs/projects, it organized study and cultural visits to China. It also staged various projects like fora symposia and launched newsletters to promote bilateral understanding, cooperation, and friendship between the two countries. These projects and activities notably preceded the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Philippines and China in June 1975.

The APCU was recently reactivated under the leadership of one of its founding members, former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the chairman emeritus of the organization; its chairman, Secretary Raul Lambino; and President Jeffrey Ng. APCU has regional chapters in Baguio, Cebu, Davao, Angeles City and Pangasinan.

APPCU

Last year (2021), APCU launched two important projects which further help promote mutual understanding, friendship, and cooperation between the two countries and peoples. These projects are the Manila Forum for the Philippines-China Relations and the Award for Promoting Philippines-China Understanding (APPCU).

The primary rationale behind launching these two projects is to actively promote friendship between the Philippines and China and enhance people-to-people exchanges, noting that amity between people holds the key to sound state-to-state relations.

APPCU is a joint undertaking of APCU and the Embassy of the People's Republic of China in the Philippines. It promotes the spirit of friendship and understanding between the Philippines and China. It aims to extend recognition, acknowledgment and appreciation to individuals who made a mark and contributed much to the improvement and advancement of Philippines-China bilateral relations, understanding and friendship using their respective endeavors in different fields and disciplines such as media and journalism, public service, humanitarian and social actions, commerce and trade, arts and culture, people-to-people relations, the academe, information and communication technology (ICT), science, health and medicine.

APPCU has three categories: The Hall of Fame category acknowledges the prestige and stature of the individual, and the immense effort of work the individual has done over time, as may be evidenced by the extent of reach, impact, and reception of the work(s) by communities and societies. The Outstanding Contributions category recognizes individuals of lesser prominence who have promoted and strengthened Philippines-China bilateral relations, friendship, cooperation, and understanding. The Major Contributions category acknowledges the works of individuals whose endeavors have a growing reach and impact on the lives of specific groups or communities of people at the grassroots level.

APPCU 2022

After the successful launch of APPCU in 2021, APCU and the Chinese Embassy in Manila are honored and delighted to present the ten public and private sector individuals who have passed the three-stage selection and judging process from a list of nominees beginning the early quarter of this year. Their works' prestige, nature, and extent are essentially the basis for identifying their respective award category.

This year, APPCU has also extended a Special Award, the Gawad Sultan Paduka Pahala, to the great and exemplary statesman, the late Philippine Ambassador to China, His Excellency Jose Santiago "Chito" Sta. Romana, who, at the age of 74, passed away while in the noble call of duty in China.

The APPCU Organizing Committee has created the first-of-its-kind Special Recognition as the highest honor it can bestow posthumously to the late Ambassador Sta. Romana as an expression of recognition, gratitude, and appreciation for his unquestionable contributions to the cause of promoting amity, mutual trust, and understanding between the Philippines and China.

The following are APPCU 2022 Laureates worthy of accolades for fostering amity between the Philippines and China.

AMBASSADOR JOSE SANTIAGO "CHITO" STA. ROMANA

(Posthumous) Special Award, the Gawad Sultan Paduka Pahala

Esteemed envoy and statesman, the late Ambassador Chito Sta. Romana was an activist by heart who fought his way to success through diligence and industry.

Ambassador Sta. Romana was appointed as a Non-resident Philippine Ambassador to Mongolia and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, concurrent with his appointment as Philippine Ambassador to the People's Republic of China, from December 2016 thru April 2022.

Over the years, Ambassador Romana has received several distinctions, such as the Emmy Award, News and Documentary Category in 2000; an Emmy Nomination, News and Documentary Category in 2001 and 2006; the Award from the Overseas Press Club of America for his team's coverage of the massive China earthquake in 2008; and the Presidential Award, Gawad Mabini with the Rank of Dakilang Kamanong in 2020 for his "instrumental role" in the strengthening of Philippine and China ties. President Rodrigo Duterte posthumously awarded him the Order of Sikatuna, Rank of Datu, as he lay in state at the Heritage Chapel on April 30.

During his younger years, especially when martial law was declared in the Philippines, he was out of the country heading a Youth Delegation in China. At that time, it was not advisable for him to return to the Philippines as he was among the activists who were vocal about their views on various socio-political issues of the day.

His exile in China had not been easy for him, yet he thrived out of his ingenuity and diligence despite the isolation from family and friends. He learned Mandarin at the Beijing Language Institute to cope with day-to-day living in China, allowing him to immerse in studying works that required fluency in both Chinese and English languages. Earlier in his career, he worked as a translation editor for a Chinese publishing house at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, where he was allowed to edit and translate into English two economics books and several other articles by noted Chinese economists at the time.

After this brief stint at the publishing house, he landed a job in ABC News that opened up more significant opportunities for his professional career. As a correspondent and producer, he reported on major stories such as the crisis in US-China relations in 1999 and 2001, the economic rise of China, and the Beijing Olympics in 2008. He worked with esteemed ABC anchors Peter Jennings and Diane Sawyer when they reported from China. From a correspondent to a reporter/producer, and much later as Beijing bureau chief of ABC News, this was a career he held from 1989 until his retirement in 2010.

To have lived, worked, and thrived in China for the most of his life, it may be said that Ambassador Sta. Romana had the advantage of knowing and understanding China better, from its leadership to its culture and people, than many Chinese and Filipino Chinese in the Philippines.

Gleaning from his life, works, and advocacies, he had been an effective instrument in educating people about the Chinese culture and China in terms of its leadership, politics, and development goals. Furthermore, it may be said that perhaps his best work and legacy are that of his dedication to promoting people-to-people interaction by sharing his appreciation, knowledge, and perception of China, and ideals in maintaining amity amid and despite disputes through diplomatic means and channels, considering that China and the Philippines share important historical roots.

This year, the Award for Promoting Philippines-China Understanding (APPCU) recognizes all these efforts and relevant contributions by the late Ambassador Chito Sta. Romana, and for being instrumental in maintaining a healthy friendship and cooperative relations between China and the Philippines.

Hall of Fame

FORMER PHILIPPINE PRESIDENT JOSEPH EJERCITO ESTRADA

Actor-turned-businessman and politician Joseph Ejercito Estrada was the 13th President of the Republic of the Philippines.

As an actor, he had made a name for himself in the movie industry by being among the most loved actors during his time, aside from winning several Famas Best Actor awards for movies.

Beyond the film industry, President "Erap" was also recognized by various award-giving bodies for his exemplary works as a politician and civil servant. His engagement in politics began when he was elected as mayor of San Juan in 1969, a position in which he served the longest in his entire political career, from 1969 to 1986.

Following his career as local chief executive of the City Government of San Juan, he then ran for a seat in the Senate and became a Senator from 1987 to 1992. After serving one full term in the Senate, he ran for higher office and was elected as Vice President in 1992, which he held thru 1998.

Although ousted in 2001, President Erap is still reckoned as one of the most loved Presidents of the Philippines, owing not only to his innate charisma but perhaps to being identified as a hero of the masses owed mainly to his roles portrayed in films over the years.

As a politician, he has proven himself worthy of respect and esteem for being diligent in his tasks and campaigns against crime, an effort recognized by leaderships of neighboring and western countries alike. Countries like China and Russia perhaps admire his openness to building friendly relations that go beyond politics and ideology.

APPCU recognizes former President Joseph Ejercito Estrada for his continuous efforts in supporting the Filipino-Chinese community locally by acknowledging their valuable contributions to the Philippine economy and nation-building. Furthermore, APPCU likewise recognizes the former President's vocal expression of support and cooperation with China as a regional partner in Asia and the Association of Southeast Asian (ASEAN) member countries.

AMBASSADOR FRANCISCO BENEDICTO

He was an Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the People's Republic of China. He is a renowned and esteemed public figure in the Philippines. He is a multi-awarded individual celebrated not only for his accomplishments in government service but likewise in his academic and entrepreneurial endeavors.

Born and raised in the province of Cebu, he came from a family of business magnates devoted to philanthropy and the promotion of the rich Filipino culture through advocacies in education and business enterprise.

To date, he is the founding chairman of the Benedicto College Inc. and chairman of the FLB Prime Holdings Inc. Before his debut in government and consular services, he was the former chairman and general manager of the Benedicto Development Corporation and former president of the B. Benedicto and Sons Co. Inc.

His active involvement in public sector activities began in the '70s when he was elected president of the Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which he held for three terms from 1971 thru 1974. Concurrent with said position, he also served as president of the Cebu Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce Inc. for seven terms, from 1972 up to 1986; as the regional governor for the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, with its central office in Manila, from 1977 through 1983; and as president of the Mandaue Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc. for six terms, from 1980 until 1986.

His rich experience in government service may also be gleaned from the various key positions he held under different leadership and administrations over the last decades.

His consular mission began around the mid-80s until April 2011.

At present, Ambassador Benedicto is recognized by APPCU for his relevant contributions to opening and promoting amity and harmonious channels for trade and cultural exchanges between the Philippines and China. His vast experience in the fields of education, business and trade, and positions held in government and diplomatic services undoubtedly enabled him to observe the needs of his own country keenly and to identify the opportunities available for its economy to thrive in the years to come through the support and cooperative ties with China.

Outstanding Contributions

WILSON LEE FLORES

A multi-awarded writer, educator, poet, columnist, author of five books, economics/pop-culture/politics/geopolitics analyst, and entrepreneur, Wilson Lee Flores also describes himself as a "social worker" in his undertaking various philanthropic and cultural projects either in his capacity or as an officer of various NGOs.

He is the honorary chairman of Anvil Business Club, board member and chairman of Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc. (FFCCCII) Public Information and Media Committee, and moderator of "Pandesal Forum" at 83-year-old Kamuning Bakery Café.

Among his unique civic and cultural projects include donating several public school buildings to rural communities in the Philippines, moderating the non-partisan "Pandesal Forum," which hopes to help elevate the public discourse on national and global issues, and having his 83-year-old Kamuning Bakery Café in cooperation with Quezon City Hall baked and distributed thousands of loaves of bread for a month in 2020 during the lockdown due to the pandemic to all Q.C. government hospitals, medical and security front liners and shelters for the homeless.

As a writer, Wilson has written on diverse topics ranging from business, economics, pop culture, humor, and arts to politics, winning him a record 15 Catholic Mass Media Awards (CMMA). This is thus far the highest number of CMMA ever won by a person in the history of this prestigious award. Various award-giving bodies have likewise recognized him for his exemplary work as a writer, a media practitioner, and an entrepreneur with socio-civic endeavors.

Some of his most notable writings are promoting better Philippines-China understanding centered on the anti-colonial revolutionary and World War 2 cooperation as allies between the Philippines and China; how Chinese entrepreneurs contributed to Philippine progress; the struggles and socio-economic contributions of ethnic Chinese entrepreneurs to Philippine national life since the Spanish colonial era; and the Chinese immigrant entrepreneurs throughout Philippine history.

He pioneered in writing about the often misunderstood and unheralded immigrant Chinese entrepreneurs and humanized their stories of struggles in his weekly Monday column called "Roots of Philippine Business" for the Manila Chronicle newspaper.

Flores believes that centuries of Chinese immigrants' struggles and positive contributions to Philippine nation-building are priceless stories integral to the Filipino national heritage.

He also researched, traced, and verified the ancestral roots of Philippine national hero Dr. Jose Rizal in the village of Zhang-Guo in Jinjiang of Fujian province, Southeast China.

In his articles, he proposed the installation of a Rizal monument in Fujian, which was eventually realized with the world's largest Rizal monument of 18.61 meters in height and even a huge Rizal Park. Both are now symbols of the ancient bond of friendship between the Philippines and China.

This year, APPCU recognizes Wilson Lee Flores as one of its worthy recipients for his efforts and contributions to facilitating a better understanding of the Chinese culture and the Chinese community in the Philippines through his writings and his many socio-civic and cultural initiatives.

RODRIGO 'ROD' KAPUNAN

Columnist-writer Rodrigo "Rod" Kapunan is the voice behind the popular "Backbencher," a column in the Manila Standard Today. He is also a regular contributor to the China Daily Global Edition and the Global Times, both internationally circulated newspapers.

Having a background in politics and the law, it is not difficult to see where his interests and leanings toward various political issues might have been rooted. As a writer and political analyst, he has been vocal about his views on many issues that continuously confront Philippine politics and government.

As a columnist, he has written and published relevant articles and pieces that offered alternative views toward understanding the Philippine political culture and economy. He has also written and delivered talks on the disputed South China Sea issues, topics involving Philippines and China relations, and China's foreign policies, culture, and shared community principles enunciated by Chinese President Xi Jinping as a guest speaker and resource person.

Kapunan is keen on the support and aid extended by China to the Philippines as an Asian neighbor. Contrary to the mindset that has blinded many Filipinos today, he sees the Philippines-China cooperation as an opportunity more than a threat to the country's economy and security.

In this light and reason, APPCU recognizes the efforts and contributions made by Rod Kapunan as a writer, columnist, and political analyst in forging better relations with China and by acknowledging the important role of China in aiding the development of the Philippine economy.

MAURO GIA SAMONTE

Mauro Gia Samonte is not only a Manila Times columnist and book author but a self-taught literary craftsman, screenplay writer, film director, and a practicing journalist into his octogenarian years.

Of the more than a hundred articles he has written in his column that deal with China, 50 have already been published in an anthology titled China, The Way, The Truth, and The Life. The book is the foremost credential for Samonte's nomination to this year's APPCU Awards. It is just one of the things he has intended to do to help better Philippines-China understanding.

His firm belief is that Sinophobia among Filipinos is caused less by their actual anti-Chinese sentiments than by the continuing cultural enslavement by Americans. Filipinos easily believe false American yarns against China. To destroy American credibility is key to curing Filipino ill will toward China.

At 81, Samonte cannot but feel he is running out of time to do the film. But, with China, hope springs eternal.

PRINCESS JACEL H. KIRAM OF THE SULTANATE OF SULU

As her title implies, Princess Jacel Kiram of the Sultanate of Sulu is born to nobility as the daughter of Jamalul Kiram 3rd and a descendant of the Sultan of Sulu, Paduka Batara. Her innate interest in her ancient roots led her to what seems to be lifelong advocacy that she now pursues not only as an individual but as a leader and representative of her people.

Princess Jacel is currently the president of Philsilat Sports Association and the Co-Founder and President of the International Center for Peace, Reconciliation, and Development (ICPRD).

As young as she may be, she has held leadership and key positions in the various organizations she is involved with. For instance, she was one of the delegates to the 600th Year of Sulu-China Friendship celebration in Guangxi and head of the Philippine delegation to the 19th World Festival of Youth and Students held in Sochi, Russia, in 2017, to name a few.

In her pursuits of retracing her roots, Princess Jacel has been instrumental in bringing to the fore pieces of evidence of ancient ties between China and the people of Mindanao, particularly the Sultanate of Sulu, that goes beyond trading but also of alliance and cultural assimilation.

Her commitment to the furtherance of the legacy of her ancestors has not only led to an increased awareness of Philippines-China historical ties among her people, but such efforts greatly facilitated the promotion of more people to people interactions between the two countries by way of skills, knowledge, and human resource exchanges.

This year, APPCU recognizes Princess Jacel Kiram for her efforts and initiatives in facilitating the strengthening of friendship between the Philippines and China and for her vocal expression of amity and gratitude, especially concerning the preservation of the history and legacy of her ancestor, the Sultan of Sulu.

Major Contributions

PAUL GUTIERREZ

A multi-awarded journalist and media practitioner, Paul Gutierrez was a two-term director and president and is currently the secretary of the National Press Club of the Philippines, one of the country's oldest but biggest organizations of active members of the Philippine press.

His career in mass media and journalism took off by the turn of the millennium in 2000 when he served as the editor of The Pilipino Reporter, a magazine in the vernacular for Filipino Overseas Workers.

Before his career in the mass media, he had also served in various positions in both public and private sector agencies and institutions. He was also part of Former Philippine President Joseph Ejercito Estrada's Media Bureau. He also became a correspondent of The Daily Tribune, focusing on political issues.

From 2005 to the present, Gutierrez has been connected with the Philippine Journalists Inc., the publisher of the People's Journal and the People's Tonight, as a regular columnist and Senate reporter.

Gutierrez is reckoned to be one of the few journalists in the country who has been vocal in expressing his favor for strengthening Philippines and China relations and, most significantly, correcting all misconceptions and biased stances made against China over the years owing to the overbearing influence of the West, primarily the US.

For him, China and the Philippines are "brothers" bound by their shared history and common national independence struggle against Western/US Imperialism.

In 2017, as NPC president, he signed a partnership agreement with the All-China Journalists Association (ACJA) that made the NPC a member of the broader Belt and Road Initiative of China.

Being aware of how Western Imperialism and their local cohorts manipulate the Philippine mainstream media, in May 2020, he established Pinoy Exposé, primarily as an avenue to counter Western propaganda and help promote the views of China, knowing they represent the truth in any issue as well as other articles that promote global peace, shared prosperity and understanding.

This year, APPCU recognizes all efforts and contributions made by Gutierrez through his craft, not only in facilitating a greater awareness of the historical ties between the Philippines and China but in promoting every aspect of strengthening their friendly and brotherly relations.

PROFESSOR CAVIN FRANCO PAMINTUAN

A devoted language teacher and educator who has already achieved much personally and professionally, Professor Cavin Franco Pamintuan is currently the Philippine Director of the Confucius Institute at the Angeles University Foundation (AUF), which he has held since May 2019.

His being a bilingual practitioner from April to September 2013 led to his employment at the Confucius Institute of AUF as a faculty member from 2015 through 2017. He then served as the Institute's administrative officer for a year from 2017 to 2018 and later as assistant director from 2018 to 2019 before being appointed Philippine Director.

Born and raised in Angeles City, Pampanga, Pamintuan completed his secondary education at the Holy Angel University. He pursued an undergraduate degree for the Bachelor of Secondary Education in Filipino and Chinese Language Teaching at AUF and successfully graduated in 2013 Cum Laude.

Immediately after graduation, he pursued his graduate studies, obtaining his Masters in Teaching Chinese Speakers of Other Languages in 2015 and a Doctor of Philosophy in Educational Management degree in 2022.

As an educator, Pamintuan has been actively involved in advocacies to promote the Chinese language and the culture of the Philippines in secondary schools. He has been a member of the Philippines-China Friendship Club (PCFC) and has written and published a number of researches and resource materials. Among these educational resources include "Reading Comprehension Strategy Use in Filipino and Chinese among Chinese Language Teaching Scholars of AUF" published in TESOL Online Journal; "The Students' Perceptions on Mandarin Classes and their HSK (Chinese Proficiency Test) Results" (2019), in The Asian ESP Journal; and "Reducing the Impacts of Pandemic to the Chinese Language Education through Localization" (2021) in the International Journal of Language Education.

He has also been engaged in local and international consultancy and advocacy works, mainly as a resource speaker on Teaching Chinese Mandarin as a Foreign Language organized by the Department of Education, and as a consultant for the Development of Special Program in Foreign Language (SPFL) Curriculum Guides for Grades 7 to 12, as representative to the Joint Conference of Confucius Institutes in Southeast Asia held in Laos in November 2018, and to the 2019 International Chinese Language Education Conference held in Changsha in 2019.

His recent professional engagements include participation as a resource speaker in an online forum on How to Effectively Use SPFL-Chinese Mandarin Learning Modules organized by the Department of Education in October 2020; as a resource speaker in the 1st International Seminar on Chinese Language Education 2020 organized by the Universitas Sebelas Maret, Indonesia in November 2020; as a consultant to the Workshops on the Validation of ADM Prototype Self-Learning Modules for SPFL, and the Workshops on the Finalization of ADM Prototype Self-Learning Modules for SPFL in October and November 2021, respectively.

This year, APPCU recognizes Prof. Cavin Franco Pamintuan for his dedication and advocacies, particularly in teaching and promoting the Chinese language among fellow educators and secondary students, which is deemed relevant in broadening and strengthening cultural exchanges and ties between the Philippines and China.

PROFESSOR CELSO CAINGLET

A vocal academician and public intellectual who is straightforward with his positions in socio-political discourses, Professor Celso Cainglet has not only rendered services as a tri-media consultant, editor, and socio-political analyst with a long list of publications in newspapers, magazines, and scholarly journals; but more importantly, he has been very dynamic with his views mainly where matters of International Relations are concerned, such as the issues on the West Philippine Sea.

His career and professional life may be described as largely academic, serving as a faculty member in various universities, colleges, and institutes in the country to the present day. Currently, Cainglet serves as a Philosophy professor at the University of the Philippines Visayas.

Apart from the academe, his government and consultancy services engagements are equally inspiring.

Given his humble but truly inspiring background and experience, Prof. Celso Cainglet is recognized by APPCU for his vocal expression and powerful stance in promoting better ties, understanding, friendship, and cooperation with China as a neighbor in Asia, particularly on issues involving the West Philippine Sea and the eastern parts of the South China Sea.

For him, there are valuable lessons to be learned from the experiences of Taiwan and Vietnam, especially where international diplomacy is essential. Accordingly, while there may be disputes on territorial claims, as a nation, Filipinos must not be stuck with this discourse as there are other aspects that require immediate attention, such as enabling the economy to thrive for the good and benefit of the majority.

APRIL MARIE DAYAP

A civil servant by heart, April Marie Dayap has been actively engaged in various community works and advocacies to extend aid and support to fellow Filipinos.

She was born and raised in Davao City. She is a former city councilor who served for three terms. During her term as councilor from 2013 to 2016, she served as the national secretary of the National Movement for Young Legislators; and from 2016 to 2017, she became the interim vice president and the executive vice president of the National Movement for Young Legislators by 2017 until the end of her term. She was also an ex-officio member being the president of the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) Federation for five years and as second district councilor for nine years.

Currently, she serves as the chief of the Davao City Investment and Promotion Center (DCIPC). As the head of DCIP, Dayao, who officially took over the office on July 1, 2019, is in charge of bringing more investors to Davao City.

Also, as chief of DCIPC, she continues to forge closer ties with China through a new sisterhood agreement between the City of Davao and Chongqing City in China. Some Chinese officials tagged Davao City as the best partner for trade, investment, and people-to-people exchanges through her efforts and excellent performance.

It is also noteworthy to mention that in her duties as head of DCIP, she has contributed much to the advancement of Davao's and China's bilateral relations, commerce and trade, friendship, and mutual understanding.

This year, APPCU recognizes all efforts made by April Marie Dayap not only in serving as an instrument for the strengthening of the sisterhood cities pact between China and Davao City but, more importantly, in facilitating a renewed view and appreciation of the Chinese people among fellow Filipinos. Dayap believes that openness to work in partnership with the Chinese is a key to the progress and development of Davao City and the Philippines in its entirety.

These 11 awardees will be recognized in an Award Ceremony held on June 10 at Dusit Thani Manila. All awardees will receive a trophy, a recognition plaque, and a certificate. Prize money will be given to each awardee for the Outstanding and Major Contributions categories.

Undoubtedly, the stories of APPCU 2022 Laureates in promoting and strengthening Philippines-China friendship and understanding in many ways opened up avenues for a better appreciation of the Filipino and Chinese cultures, historical roots, and ties, which are precisely what APCU and APPCU endeavor to pursue and triumph.