A direct connection between France and the Philippines

DIPLOMATIC POUCH - Michèle Boccoz - The Philippine Star

Last week, Minister of State for Development and International Partnerships Chrysoula Zacharopoulou accompanied President Emmanuel Macron for a historical visit in the Pacific region – in the French overseas territory of New Caledonia, then Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea. In Port Vila, President Macron announced the opening of a new embassy in Samoa, a concrete example of France’s commitment in the Indo-Pacific. On Sunday, Mrs. Zacharopoulou arrived in the Philippines for an intensive three-day visit, in line with Presidents Macron and Marcos’ pledges on global commons such as oceans protection, food security, people-to-people exchanges and education. She inaugurated a plastic recycling factory created by the French NGO Plastic Flamingo with Secretary Loyzaga. As a medical doctor herself, Mrs. Zacharopoulou had an in-depth conversation with Secretary Herbosa, as well as with the DFA.

This has been the first ministerial-level visit in the Philippines in four years – and incidentally, the last major mission I coordinated since my arrival as Ambassador to the Philippines in 2021. As my tour is ending, I feel proud of our collective achievements and privileged to have worked at such an interesting time with so many remarkable people.

Despite logistical challenges during the pandemic, vaccine donations were successfully conducted here, as well as bilateral political consultations and the port call of frigate Prairial. In December 2021, Typhoon Odette gave us the opportunity to witness the solidarity and great reactivity of our French and Filipino communities and partners, providing emergency relief with the help of the Army and the Coast Guards. It also laid the ground for longer-term projects in affected areas in Siargao and Surigao del Norte, thanks to a 2-million-euro funding by the French government.

In June 2022, the launch of the 75th anniversary of our bilateral relationships at Pinto Museum in Antipolo coincided with the reopening of the country, with a series of opportunities to fully tap into the creative potential of our two countries. Two books have already been published on the topic, including the well-titled “Happier Together: 75 Faces of French-Philippine Connections.”

Over 75 events in cinema, dance, music and gastronomy were organized for these celebrations. People-to-people exchanges will continue, and I am confident in particular much more Filipino students will go to France in the near future, as the rapid increase of French learners in our Alliance Françaises in Manila and Cebu suggests. We have world-class higher education institutions, and [as a certain Emily knows,] French language is a true asset in the globalized, competitive economic environment in which Filipinos thrive.

Elections in France and the Philippines mid-2022 were the occasion of a fresh start for our political relationship, reflected by several direct interactions between our leaders and the perspective of a state visit to France by President Marcos. Our shared values, support of a non-confrontational regional integration and the adherence to a rules-based order in particular make the case for closer ties between our two Indo-Pacific nations. France offered joint patrols in Philippine EEZs and reiterated its support of the 2016 Arbitral Award. Regular port calls and visits of our Joint Commander for the French Armed Forces in Indo-Pacific, joint drills and ongoing conversations for the modernization of the Philippine defense capabilities put these words into action.

Our embassy is currently undergoing a qualitative transformation: a resident Defense Attaché, a 3rd political counselor will strengthen our ranks at the end of this month. We will also move to a brand-new, modern location in Makati this year. These investments support the upgrading of our bilateral relation.

In the political realm, parliamentary exchanges are also vibrant: eight Filipino senators led by Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri went to France last October, whereas three French senators came to the Philippines earlier this year. The Filipino delegation paid a visit to a nuclear power plant as well as naval facilities, a useful contribution to the ongoing dialogue on energy and defense.

Our business communities have been particularly dynamic these last months, with multi-billion infrastructure projects undertaken by French companies, and other key energy projects gaining traction such as a solar farm in Isabela or hydrogen power prospects in Zamboanga, to name a few. The recent opening of an office of Naval Group in Manila also signals more long-term investments here. And I hope to return soon to the Philippines through the direct connection between Paris and Manila currently being discussed with Philippine Airlines, aboard one of the A-350-1000 long-range Airbus it will soon acquire.

AFD, the French Development Agency, has been very active here, together with our partners such as the ADB and World Bank. Ongoing projects are mainly oriented towards long-term climate resilience and energy transition. Global commons in the broadest sense have also been addressed by the very vivid network of Franco-Filipino NGOs here, whose excellence and dedication have truly humbled me: Father Dauchez’ Anak-Tnk Foundation, Caméléon, ATD Quart-Monde, Médecins du Monde, Virlanie, Eau et Vie are among them – and the list continues. With Acted, we started an innovative sustainable agriculture project with women entrepreneurs in the BARMM region, and even had the occasion to showcase their products in Mandaluyong. Earlier this year, we also inaugurated with Secretary Toni Loyzaga a coral restoration center in Palawan implemented by Sulubaai.

Keep tuned as the next years will be extremely exciting for France and the Philippines! Starting with the participation of Filipino athletes – and my good friend Hidilyn Diaz – to the Paris Olympics and Paralympics next summer. Allow me to pass the baton to Ambassador Marie Fontanel, who will be taking over from now on. God speed to her, hanggang sa muli and au revoir to all of you!

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