SOUTH KOREANS HAVE LONG memories and can never forget the role the Philippines played in the attainment of South Korea’s freedom and democracy.
Through the solicitation of the United Nations, the Philippines was the first country to send combat troops to South Korea during the 1950-55 Korean Peninsula war to defend it against the incursions of the North Koreans and the Chinese. Among the 7,000 Filipino combatants who volunteered was 22-year fresh graduate of West Point, Fidel V. Ramos, who was to ascend as a president of the Philippine Republic after the late Cory Aquino in 1998.
Since then the Korean economy had grown by leaps and bounds- now with a per capita income of $30,000 compared to the Philippines $8,000. (2014 data).The friendship, nonetheless, has endured the passage of time.
Out to continue the deep bond of unity hereabouts is new South Korean Ambassador to the Philippines Han Dong Man, a 30-year veteran-diplomat with huge exposures in trade issues, policy planning and public relations. He has been assigned to the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and Algeria.
In his first six months foray in the country, Ambassador Han has visited 12 provinces, the last one being Bohol last week. Economic and security interests are expected to flourish under the wake of the dynamic new ambassador.who has picked up a few native Pilipino phrases in so short a stint here.
South Korea is happy to be part of the modernisation of the Philippine military ,heretofore one of the weakest in Southeast Asia. RP has bought a dozen FA-50 fighter jets from them which became handy during the recent Marawi uprising.
“We will soon introduce cost-efficient Korean armaments including helicopters, small firearms and even submarines.”, he said.
South Korea is also now the leading tourist visitors in RP at 1.5 million and President Digong Duterte asked the ambassador’s help in bringing the number to 2 million this year. Bohol has been particularly attractive to Koreans resulting in daily flights here from Incheon airport and the new international airport will multiply the possibilities.
Korean K-Pop culture has been particularly popular among Filipinos with avid followers of Korean singers and actors. Their TV teleseryes are popular here and Sandara Park and Ryan Bang are household names. Many Filipinos and media men also frequent Jeju Island if only to relive their fantasies as the island has been the site of many film and TV shoots.
The recent visit of the Philippine president to South Korea produced $4.8B in prospective investments in various industries ,a great leap from the mere $17-M in 2017. A separate $1-B in (Official Development Assistance) the form of aid, loans and grants is likewise in place. South Korea is also the 6th largest trading partner of the Philippines.
The Sokors are also coming in big in renewable forms of clean energy as wind and solar as well as coal in Quezon province and a LNG Terminal Hub. They are aware that the nation has a very expensive power rate which when corrected can readily improve our competitive advantage. The Koreans are also keen in sharing their knowledge in nuclear physics, fully aware that industrial Japan has many nuclear power plants.
A Korean firm is reportedly mulling a 1,000 room hotel somewhere near the Bikini Beach area. Many Koreans, per Ambassador Han, are gung-ho in visiting Bohol but would later find out there are not enough rooms. Some of the available ones are also quite expensive, the Koreans have noted.
The Koreans are active in rice technology and are participants in projects in Bilar and Pilar. There are talks of putting up a Fish Academy in the northern part of Luzon and the Koreans are funding one of the biggest irrigation dams there , as well.
Looking at local tourism, Ambassador Han, who is also a Communications graduate noticed the absence of unique cultural shows which are very big attractions in many other countries. Likewise, he was impressed with the uniqueness of the Baclayon church which he compares favorably with such iconic churches as the Manila Cathedral and the San Agustin Church in Intramuros Manila.
The ambassador suggested to highlight the century-old churches here in our promotional portfolio to attract the 10 million Catholics among the 60 million South Koreans.
Meantime, he also said that security in the country has improved in the first two years of Duterte. Ten Koreans were killed in the previous years, only two in 2017 and one this year. This is as important development because media tend to sensationalise the murder of foreign nationals.
Ambassador Han , however, disclosed that there are more Koreans in Vietnam than here in the Philippines as well as investments are flocking there because of their good tax and fiscal incentives. He warned that any more reduction in incentives for foreign investors here as contemplated under TRAIN 2 will worsen the situation.
The Korean envoy was visibly pleased with the return of the good relations between North and South Korea punctuated by the participation of the Nokors in the recent Sokor Winter Olympics. He opines that once Kim Jung Un makes good his promise to denuclearise North Korea, the floodgates of peace and development will prevail over the Korean Peninsula.
On the international front, the envoy who still enjoys a steady round of golf, frowns on the ongoing trade war between the USA and China which high tariff walls will eventually affect many nations even as he called for a peaceful resolution of the South China Sea imbroglio since the area is an important international seawaters for global trade.
The ambassador who was here on a brief Bohol visit gave comfort to all of us who had the privilege to dine and chat with him, that with Ambassador Han Dong Man at the helm of the Korean embassy here, the Pinoy-Sokor relations will be in very good hands. Godspeed!
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