Full text of interview with Philippine ambassador Raul S. Hernandez

Park Sae-jin Reporter() | Posted : Febuary 20, 2018, 15:57 | Updated : Febuary 23, 2018, 17:18

Raul S. Hernandez, Philippine Ambassador to South Korea [Photograph by Park Sae-jin]

SEOUL, Feb. 20 (Aju News) -- The full text of an interview with Raul S. Hernandez, Philippine Ambassador to South Korea:

Q: The Philippines has been a long-time and important partner of South Korea. How do you see their general relationship will be like this year?

A: Sixty-nine years since the establishment of diplomatic ties between our countries, the relations between the Philippines and South Korea continue to expand and evolve into comprehensive mutual exchanges that benefit the two countries. Defined by a shared history and increasingly bound in recent years by like-minded aspirations for peace, prosperity and progress as well as cultural affinities, the Philippines and Korea will continue to face rosy prospects this year in various areas of cooperation, from defense and security to trade and economy, as well as social and cultural exchanges. Korea will continue to be one of the Philippines’ important allies and our bilateral relationship will persist to evolve into a comprehensive and multifaceted one, not only at a state-to-state level but also taking root at the people-to-people level.

Q: With his new Southern Policy, President Moon is trying to expand ties with Southeast Asian nations, and your country is one of the fastest growing economies in the region. Does your country has any specific plan to upgrade bilateral ties? Do you think many Korean companies will move out of China to your country?

A: The Philippines enjoys a robust partnership with Korea in view of ASEAN’s decision to elevate relations with Korea from comprehensive cooperation to strategic partnership through the Joint Declaration on ASEAN-ROK Strategic Partnership for Peace and Prosperity and its Action Plan in 2010. A new ASEAN-ROK Plan of Action to Implement the Joint Declaration on Strategic Partnership for Peace and Prosperity for the period 2016-2020 was adopted at the Post-Ministerial Conference with Korea held on 5 August 2015 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The Philippines foresees that bilateral relations between the Philippines and Korea will continue to expand and prosper in terms of increased cooperation in the areas of defense, trade, investments, agriculture, science and technology and socio-cultural exchanges.

I also wish to underscore that the Philippines is engaged bilaterally and regionally not only with Korea but also with other dialogue partners of ASEAN such as China. The Philippines is of the view that expanding cooperation with fellow ASEAN member states and ASEAN’s dialogue partners will bring prosperity not only to the Philippines but will redound to the benefit of all.

Thus, within this context, all countries have important roles to play and all can benefit from concentrating on each ones’ specific strengths and competitiveness. The relocation of factories between countries is just one aspect of a larger system that needs to be considered, namely the regional manufacturing supply/value chain. The Philippines’ goal is not so much to compete with other countries but rather to offer complementary manufacturing options for global manufacturers.

In the case of the Philippines, we offer several advantages which make us competitive in certain sectors and products. We have a large rapidly-prospering market of 100 million people. Our median age for the whole population is just 23 years, giving us a very large productive labor pool, as well as assurance that our economy will continue to be productive for decades to come. We are blessed with abundant and clean tropical agricultural and marine resources. We are centrally located in the middle of the ASEAN and ASEAN+3 FTAs. We are in the middle of an infrastructure and economic boom. These advantages and many more continue to attract foreign companies, including Korean companies in other locations, to consider investments in the Philippines.

Q. Can you tell us about President Duterte's economic policies, especially on his focus on infrastructure and economic growth. Does he any specific plan to draw more investment from South Korean companies?

A: In his 10-point Socioeconomic Agenda, President Rodrigo Duterte envisioned the reduction of poverty from 21.6% in 2015 to 13%-15% by 2022. Among the reforms that will drive this Agenda is the acceleration of infrastructure and the development of industries that will yield robust growth across the archipelago, create jobs and uplift the lives of Filipinos. Infrastructure is among the top priorities of this Administration, with public spending on infrastructure projects targeted to reach 8-9 trillion pesos from ‎2017-2022.

This focus on infrastructure is called the Build, Build, Build program, and we are encouraging Korean companies to consider more investment in this program. On January 29-31, 2018, 12 Korean companies under the leadership of the ASEAN Korea Center and the Philippine Embassy in Korea went to the Philippines to look at what projects they can participate in. Included in this delegation are large infrastructure and utility companies like K-water, KEPCO, GS E&C, etc.

Apart from infrastructure, we are encouraging more Korean companies to also invest in manufacturing (such as electronics and semiconductors, auto assembly and auto parts, electric vehicles, etc.), banking and finance, shipbuilding, animation and game development, agribusiness and food processing, real estate and tourism facilities, energy and renewable energy, etc.

Q: How can the two countries further expand bilateral trade, and do you see any new business area where the two countries can work together?

A: A promising area for expanded bilateral cooperation would be in the area of infrastructure. The Philippines is rolling out many infrastructure projects within the short to medium term, and Korean engineering and construction companies can provide much needed technical expertise and also capital towards profitably in undertaking these projects.

Another area is in electric vehicles. The Philippines can be a manufacturing and assembly hub for Korean electric vehicle manufacturers to supply the entire ASEAN market. The timing is perfect to get into this new sector while it is still not crowded and dominated by other countries like Japan or China. In November 2017, our Department of Trade and Industry signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the Korean Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Energy, for cooperation on electric vehicles, to take advantage of this opportunity.

Q: Many Koreans visit your country as tourists. Any new measures to promote people-to-people exchanges and expand cooperation on security issues?

A: The South Korean market is a top source of foreign tourists to the Philippines. From January to November 2017, the Philippines had 1.458 million Korean visitors to the Philippines. Robust people-to-people exchanges have contributed immensely to fostering goodwill and friendship and in strengthening relations between the Philippines and South Korea.

To promote the Philippines as prime tourism destination to the Korean market, the Embassy, through its Philippine Department of Tourism-Korea (PDOT), will participate in major travel fairs scheduled this year such as the Korea World Travel Fair (KOTFA), Busan International Travel Fair (BITF), Hana International Travel Show (HITS), 15th Tour Expo Daegu, Gyeongbuk and the 2018 Seoul Friendship Fair.

The Embassy’s Tourism Office also plans to participate in other major tourism events such as the Busan International Film Festival, Mode Tour International Travel Show, Seoul International Lantern Festival and the Hana Tour International Travel Show in Busan. In the travel fairs and shows, the Embassy will feature Philippine tourist destinations, craft and cultural performances to attract potential Korean travelers to the Philippines.

To further showcase the Philippines’ travel destinations and tourist attractions, the Embassy will be organizing joint promotional activities with partner airlines and will continue to partner with large tour operators and travel agencies in South Korea to offer reasonable and attractive package tours to the Philippines.

The Embassy will be continuing its active engagement with the Korean media in order to publicize the Philippines’ travel destinations and tourist attractions to the Korean market. It intends to organize familiarization tours this year that would enable Korean writers, journalists and bloggers to experience first-hand the Philippines’ scenic sites, culture, cuisine and hospitality so that they can write about their travel to the Philippines, thus encouraging more Koreans to visit and explore the Philippines.

The Embassy will also actively market the Philippines to the millennial generation as well as large and medium-size companies that send incentive groups abroad. This year, we further intend to participate in tourism and cultural activities being organized by the ASEAN-Korea Centre (AKC).

The Philippine government continues to exert effort in ensuring the safety of the approximately 100,000 Korean nationals residing in the Philippines, and of the more than one million Korean tourists visiting our country annually. The Philippine government will continue working with Korean agencies, including the Korean National Police Agency, in making sure that Koreans are safe during their stay in the Philippines.

In terms of defense cooperation, there are three Memoranda of Understanding or MOUs between the two nations. The 1994 MOU on Defense Logistics and Industry Cooperation highlights the production and procurement of materiel such as ships and aircraft. The 2009 MOU on Mutual Logistics Cooperation includes joint research, exchange of logistics and defense industry personnel, intelligence exchange, as well as humanitarian assistance/disaster relief and peacekeeping. The 2011 MOU on Defense Cooperation discusses the establishment of a regular dialogue body and exchange visits of senior military officers.

The future bodes well for both countries. President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, in the bilateral meeting with ROK President Moon Jae-in in Manila in November 2017, said that the Philippines will continue to help Korea in its pursuit for peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula. But more than this, I see not only the continuance but also the stepping up of our defense cooperation particularly on capability build-up, capacity enhancement and logistics support. In the coming years, we will witness the delivery of more military materiel and equipment as part of the modernization program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Also, in the light of the present security engagement, there will be more cooperation on counter-terrorism, cyber-security and even freedom of navigation patrols in international waters should our defense and political leadership so desire.

Q: There are many Korean-Filipino marriage couples in Korea. Do you have any concern about living conditions of Filipino female immigrants to Korea and multi-cultural families. Do you have any suggestion to improve the situation?

A: Currently, we have over 10,000 Filipino marriage immigrants in the country. This number does not include the Filipinos who have already acquired Korean citizenship by virtue of marriage. Given the trend on multicultural marriages in Korea, we can only surmise that the number will continue to rise in the coming years.

These Filipino marriage immigrants, although a lot of them have assimilated well in Korea – contributing greatly to this country’s diversification, global competitiveness, and economic and social advancement – a significant number still faces challenges on integrating successfully in the Korean society. The differences in culture, customs, and practices between our two countries are a big challenge to a number of multicultural marriages which need to be addressed proactively. 
The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family (MOGEF) has been instituting programs that ensure that the conditions for marriage are conducive to building a healthy marital relationship and are responsive to the challenges that multicultural couples face in Korea. While the efforts of the Korean government in helping multicultural couples prepare for a life in Korea are much appreciated, we also deem it necessary for the Korean government to promote mutual understanding of cultures and multiculturalism among families with mixed marriages. I think it would be ideal if both parties, not just the foreign spouse, get pre-marriage counseling or education on each other’s culture – thereby fostering respect and building greater understanding of each other’s cultural background. 
More importantly, we are cognizant of the special needs of children from these multicultural families as many of them experience identity confusion. Indeed, there is a fine balance between acknowledging one’s heritage and then trying to integrate into another. Thus, it is imperative that measures should be provided to address this problem and prevent the threat of cultural gap. Initiatives such as these are a good opportunity for them to learn about the other half of their heritage as well as inculcate in them tolerance for differing practices and values.

Another concern that most multicultural families face, particularly the children, is racism. While South Korea is gradually becoming a heterogeneous society, it cannot be denied that there is still much work to be done in terms of promoting inter-cultural respect in the country. Thus, as the older members of this democratic nation, we have the civic responsibility to challenge and educate the younger members of the society on the concepts of diversity and inclusiveness. To teach them, by precept and example, that the definition of multiculturalism is not limited to a diverse population but is underpinned by inter-cultural respect and tolerance for traditional practices and values.

Q: China's recent restrictions on K-pop and K-dramas are shifting the Korean wave, or Hallyu, to Southeast Asia. How does your country view the Korean wave?

A: Hallyu, or the influx of Korean culture, has visibly swept the Philippines. With more and more Koreans coming to visit or study in the Philippines (approximately 100,000 live in the Philippines and over 1.45 million visited the country last year), with K-pop and Korean dramas getting more airtime on radio and TV, and with the propagation of Korean cosmetics and Korean food in the Philippine market, ordinary Filipinos have become more familiar with Koreans and Korea on a daily basis. With the continuing growth of Hallyu, it can be expected that the Korean presence in the Philippines will only grow greater in the coming years.

As Hallyu reaches a high watermark in popularity in the country, it is expected that this phenomenon will stimulate greater interactions between Filipinos and Koreans. Although this cultural exchange seems one-sided, I am hopeful that it will not just pave the way for greater understanding and appreciation of each other’s culture, but will also create a more meaningful and mutually beneficial interaction that will ultimately redound to the benefit of both countries’ economies.

Additionally, looking at Hallyu, it is my hope also that the Philippines can realize the potential of taking cultural diplomacy to a higher level and replicate the same level of success with our local television dramas as well our original Filipino music.

Q: Do you see the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games will help promote peace on the Korean Peninsula? What's your thought on the divided peninsula?

A: I believe that this year’s Olympic Games, in keeping with the true spirit of the Olympic Truce, will be one of peace and brotherhood. Through the support and resoluteness of the international community, I am certain that the Pyeongchang Olympics will uphold the ancient tradition, concept, and values of this premier sporting event.

As a democratic nation that promotes peaceful resolutions of disputes, we also laud the efforts of the two Koreas in working together to make this year’s Winter Olympics a “Peace Olympics.” Building on these positive developments, we share the hope of the international community that these will create windows of opportunities for dialogue and reconciliation, and ultimately set favorable conditions for the peaceful resolution of longstanding issues on the Peninsula.

It is our hope that North Korea’s participation in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics will serve as a catalyst for more opportunities for exchanges and cooperation towards a lasting peace and reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula.

Q: Do you see President Duterte will visit Korea this year. If so, what will be the main focus of his visit?

A: President Moon Jae-in, during his meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte during the ASEAN Summit in Manila in November 2017, extended an invitation for the latter to visit South Korea this year. Although we have yet to receive official confirmation of the State Visit of our President to Korea, we are already preparing for it. Further, we expect his agenda to be full given the robust relations between our two countries as well as the great number of areas we cooperate in.

I expect the President to discuss expanding our defense and security relations with South Korea as the Philippines continues to pursue security and defense engagements with our allies to manage new realities defined by new challenges in the realm of traditional and non-traditional security issues.

Trade and investment is another area which the President will focus on during his visit as the Philippines consistently regards South Korea as one of its important economic partners. Building on the complementary nature of the two economies of the Philippines and South Korea, we hope that their discussions on the economic front will give rise to an expanding host of business opportunities for the two countries in the areas of infrastructure development, information and communication technology, environmental protection, food supplies, renewable energy, among others.

In addition to defense and trade, the President might also discuss labor and employment issues of Filipino workers. The President, being a people’s president, is always particularly concerned about the welfare of our workers overseas. While we are grateful to the South Korean government for giving employment to more than 26,000 Filipinos and affording them the opportunity to contribute to the development of the country, the President might discuss ways to further improve the labor and immigration program for the benefit of our workers.

Lastly, I also expect the President to discuss future prospects in the areas of tourism and cultural exchange – two areas that promote strong people-to-people exchanges between our two countries.

Q: Any interesting events your embassy is going to host this year?

A: The Embassy envisions this year to be a very busy year for us as we prepare to celebrate the 70th anniversary of our bilateral relations with South Korea next year. As a forerunner, we are hosting several important cultural events this year.

In April, we are planning to undertake a diplomatic tour to the Philippines. This familiarization tour, which has been successfully organized by the Embassy four times already, aims to promote greater awareness of the prime tourist destinations in the Philippines and to present the Philippines' rich culture, history and culinary heritage to the members of the diplomatic community.

In June, we will have two big events commemorating the anniversary of Philippine independence – a diplomatic reception and a Filipino community event. The two events, other than being a platform to highlight the significance of Philippines-South Korea relations, will also feature cultural performances. These annual events form an integral part of our campaign to promote the Philippines – our country, our people, and our culture – to the domestic market.

Later this year, we are also organizing a Philippine Film Festival in Busan. This Film Festival aims to not just showcase films that depict everyday lives of Filipinos but also to highlight the best of Philippine culture and traditions. We hope that through this event, we are able to raise public awareness and appreciation of the Philippines and further enhance mutual understanding between the Philippines and South Korea and its people.
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