Through the eyes of a diplomat - Asia with a smile in The Hague

21 Feb 2013 | Roy Lie A Tjam

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The Republic of the Philippines – Republika ng Pilipinas – is a sovereign state in Southeast Asia in the western Pacific Ocean with a population of more than 92 million.  12 million of these live in the Diaspora.  The capital is Manila with two official languages of English and Filipino with eight major dialects in use. Multiple ethnicities and cultures are found throughout the 2,000 inhabited islands within the archipelago of 7,107 islands which make up the country. 


 

I met with H.E. Ambassador Lourdes Gutierrez Morales at the Chancery of the Republic of the Philippines in The Hague’s Archipelbuurt.  The embassy has been at this location since 1969.  Due to its architectural and historical value, the embassy building was declared a historical landmark by the Municipality of The Hague in May 1990.

 

Ambassador Morales is a career diplomat with some 40 years of experience in the Philippine Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  Personally, she had wanted to take up a career in medicine. However, as it was in those days, her father – who was himself a diplomat – decided that one of his children was to follow his footsteps.

 

 

 

 

Lourdes Gutierrez Morales

Photo: Theo van Rossum

So, Lourdes, being the chosen one, de facto, is a career diplomat, a career she by no means regrets.  According to her, it is a great honour to be the envoy of my country to countries of the world, it is so gratifying. Ambassador Morales is married, with two beautiful daughters, not one of whom has become a diplomat.  One daughter is a Georgetown University graduate in Communications.  She is now working for a Vice President of the World Bank in Washington D.C.

 

Ambassador Morales’ first posting as a junior diplomat was in Korea.  She has served in various capacities in countries such as Greece, Cyprus, Thailand, Canada (Vancouver) and Cambodia. As she puts it, she had the opportunity to grow in the Foreign Service.  Today, she is her country’s Ambassador to the Netherlands and also the Permanent Representative of the Philippines to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

 

It was in April 2011 that His Excellency Benigno S. Aquino, President of the Republic of the Philippines, appointed her Ambassador to the Netherlands.  Ambassador Morales describes Her Majesty Queen Beatrix as a most gracious and warm person, very knowledgeable and someone who is genuinely interested in other countries. Immediately upon arrival in The Hague, Ambassador Morales’ first and urgent task was to engage in the grueling election campaign to get Senator of the Philippines Miriam Defensor-Santiago elected to the post of International Criminal Court (ICC) judge.  The effort paid off as Senator Santiago is now an elected ICC judge.

 

Ambassador Morales adheres to the Golden Rule of doing unto others what you would have others do unto you. An episode in her diplomatic career she will not ever forget is that of a young Filipino woman who was on her way to Germany.  When her plane made a stopover in Thailand, however, the young woman assumed she had reached her destination of Germany.  Not being able to communicate and not being understood by the Thais, she, somehow, ended up in a refugee camp for Vietnamese people where she was made to stay for a few years.  At some point, she was taken to the Philippine Embassy where it was established that she was a Filipino.  Very unfortunate, it was unimaginable how such a mistake could ever have happened.

 

When asked about the significance of a Defence attaché at the Embassy, Ambassador Morales said that defence cooperation could be intensified between the Philippines and the Netherlands. Piracy is a major concern of the Philippine Government. The Philippines is offering to work together to combat this, itself needing to afford protection for Filipino seamen against piracy. 

 

The Hague, City of Peace and Justice

Even before arriving in The Hague, one comes to be aware of the city’s international “allure”  and the presence of institutions such as the ICC, OPCW, Peace Palace and so forth.

The Philippines joined the ICC in 2011.  It is also a member of the Hague Conference on Private International Law (HCCH), the OPCW and the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA).

Ambassador Morales is of the view that life in The Hague, and the Netherlands in general, is one of quality, save for the very wet weather.  It is a rarity when the sun shines, and when it does, the difference in comportment of persons is immediately noticeable.  Sun makes for happy people.  It is a great mood changer.  She is all praise for the public transportation system, describing it as well organized and excellent.

 

“The way The Hague and other Dutch cities care for the environment deserves credit. So much green everywhere!”

 

The Philippines is where Asia wears a smile.

As for the Filipino community in the Netherlands, an estimated 17,000 Filipinos have made the Netherlands their new abode.

Filipinos are found in all sectors of society: geologists at Shell, domestics, engineers, IT personnel, musicians, traders and nurses.  Nurses were the first group of professionals who came to the Netherlands in 1960.  Recruited by the Dutch Government, they filled the gap in nursing professionals here.  Going overseas is not daunting for Filipinos.  You will find Filipinos in every corner of the globe, even in places as remote as Greenland.  Filipino nationals in diaspora see to the education of their relatives and friends who remain in the Philippines, an immense contribution they make to the country’s development.  The Filipinos are a hardworking people, resilient, courteous, are always wearing a friendly smile and, above all, enjoy life.  The Philippines is where Asia wears a smile.

There is an inexplicable phenomenon in football, currently gaining popularity in the Philippines.  Children of mixed parentage are migrating to their motherland and getting engaged in football.  Before they arrived on the Philippine football scene, interest in this sport in the country was at zero level.

These children have formed a well-performing national team and have become the pride of the Filipino nation.   They have played and won against Vietnam and Myanmar, countries which the Philippines could not take on before.  They include Filipino-Dutch children.  A consequence of this success is that basketball is no longer the only preferred sport of Filipinos.

 

Tenure

What Ambassador Morales would like to achieve during her tour of duty in the Netherlands is to further enhance the existing friendly relations between the Philippines and the Netherlands, particularly focusing on economic cooperation.  The Philippines and the Netherlands are currently working together on energy projects to forestall a power shortage that the Philippines might be facing in the future.  Companies from the two countries have entered into a joint venture for the construction of hydro power rings in agricultural areas.  The project will soon be rolled out.  The Philippines needs energy for its further growth.  Energy is essential to further unlocking the country’s resources of food, timber, fishery and mineral resources to achieve prosperity.

 

In November 2012, a very high-level delegation from the Philippines comprising of the Secretary of Public Works and Highways, the Secretary for the Laguna Lake Development Authority, the Undersecretary of Environment and Natural Resources, the Chairman of the Metro Manila Development Authority and Manila water authorities visited the Netherlands to attend the Flood Risk Delta Conference in Rotterdam.  They met with Dutch water management experts and took in Dutch experiences in water management.  As early as the 1970’s, it was the Dutch who presented the Philippines with a plan to solve its perennial flooding problem.  Cooperation in water management would have this early plan from which to spring into future solution building.

 

Two Honorary Philippines Consul-Generals in the Netherlands are playing a significant role in achieving the activities indicated by the Ambassador.

The Netherlands is among the top 15 investors in the Philippines and is the No. 3 of EU countries when it comes to trading partners.  Dutch conglomerates such as Shell, Unilever and Philips have all been active in the Philippines for decades.  The first Dutch nationals to land in the Philippines back in 1600 were traders.  To this day, Dutch nationals who come to the Philippines are of this category, possibly this is the reason for the economic partnership being strong. 

 

Typhoon

As a prelude to the interview, I had asked Ambassador Morales how “Pablo” was comporting himself.  Ambassador Morales gave me an update on Typhoon Pablo which has wrecked havoc in the Philippines.  She further related how the naming of typhoons works.  She recounts that at the beginning of each year, the first typhoon gets a name starting with the letter A, and the next typhoon getting a name starting with the letter B and so on.

A typhoon coming in December is usually a very severe one and Pablo is no different in the norm of typhoons.  The Philippines is a disaster-prone archipelago.  Often when disaster hits, this has consequences for some of the country’s projects.  It is when disaster hits, that the Filipino spirit of giving comes alive.  Government and non-government institutions take care of displaced persons.  H.E. President Aquino III ensures that emergency funds are provided to help mitigate the effects of a disaster.  The Department of National Defence coordinates disaster activities.  Pablo, reportedly, has so far left over 1000 persons dead, many are still missing.  Some 55 shelters have been erected to deal with the influx of victims.

 

Economic success

The economic achievements of the Philippines must be applauded; they stand as a beacon for South East Asia as the country moves into the future.

While Europe has to deal with hard economic times and accompanying austerity measures, the Philippines achieved growth in 2011 and in the first trimester of 2012.  The Philippine economy grew 7.1 percent in the third quarter, year-on-year, exceeding expectations and making it the best performing economy in Southeast Asia.  “We are well on our way to surpassing our growth target of 5 to 6 percent this year,” Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan told reporters.  Robust domestic consumption and high government spending have helped cushion the economy from the worst of the global slowdown, while manageable inflation has allowed authorities to maintain interest rates conducive to growth.

The Philippines is the only economy in the world which the IMF believes will grow faster than earlier expected this year (2012).

Early in November 2012, the International Monetary Fund raised its 2012 growth outlook for the Philippines to more than 5 percent from its October forecast of 4.8 percent citing its sound fiscal and monetary policies. At 7.1% growth in the last quarter of 2012, the economy of the Philippines stood at its fastest growth in two years, and with the fastest pace in Asia, next to China, a strong sign that the Southeast Asian economy is building domestic growth rather than relying on exports.

“There is no denying it, the Philippines is having a fantastic year despite strong global headwinds,” HSBC said in a research note.  “This is largely due to the fact that policy makers took timely measures to counterbalance an anticipated slowdown of demand from China and the euro zone, as well as the resilient nature of the services-oriented economy.”

 

Congratulations and Mabuhay Pilipinas!

 

Ambassador Morales would like to welcome Dutch and international citizens to the Philippines: investors, traders and tourists alike.

Once you have tasted Philippine hospitality, you will always return.  Similar to a group of young tourists who were stranded in the Philippines in 2011 due to a typhoon.  They experienced a lot of hardship then, but they were greatly impressed by the friendliness of the Filipino people, their solidarity, camaraderie and courage, so that in early 2012, they decided to return to the Philippines to spend another holiday and again encountered the Filipinos.

I would be remiss if I did not seize the opportunity to share my admiration for Ambassador Lourdes Gutierrez Morales with you.  To me, she is one of those few persons referred to as “walking with Royals and still being down-to-earth”.  You will find her at a high-brow function one day and at a fund-raising bazaar the next.  She certainly is an inspiring person!

Ambassador Lourdes Morales concluded the interview by saying “Come and experience the Philippines!” It is more fun in the Philippines!

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