By Jullie Y. Daza
If you’ve been to beautiful Batanes – those islands that look like another country in another century – you’d readily agree that our closest neighbor is Taiwan. As their envoy to Manila puts it, we’re so close that we are “one community, one typhoon.”
Dr. Gary Song-Huann Lin, who ought to be addressed as ambassador but for the nonexistence of formal diplomatic relations between Taiwan and the Philippines, hosted lunch for the Taiwan Alumni Club and enunciated his government’s “new south-bound policy.” In essence, “We look south and you look north,” by doing which the two countries bridge the gap, narrow the distance. Only 200 miles separates Batanes from Taiwan’s southernmost tip.
The two countries are so near each other that when typhoon Yolanda hit three years ago, Taiwan was among the first responders, delivering relief goods in 20-kilo bags on 18 cargo flights; in addition 3,000 houses were built by Tzu Chi Foundation.
Apart from climate change, “the world is changing,” Representative Lin said, even as it has been or will be replacing its leaders, including those in Taiwan, the Philippines, and soon the United States.
Last January, before he had made up his mind to join the race for president, Mayor Duterte was a guest of the Taipei government, touring and observing their green energy projects, light rail trains, hi-tech and other industries. In turn, Dr. Lin has just returned from a recent trip to Batanes with a delegation of Taiwanese businessmen who are interested in investing in solar power.
The south-bound focus on the Philippines means stronger people-to-people exchanges, principally in education (with UP, UST, La Salle, “but other institutions are welcome”) and the easing of visa requirements, whereby applications may now be filed online – especially helpful to applicants from Batanes, who spend P19,000 just to make the trip to Makati.
A bright-eyed member of the Taiwan Alumni Club raised her hand and her voice to urge students to apply for a scholarship: “It’s completely free, plus you’re given a stipend, and you make friends from Czech Republic, Alaska, New Zealand, everywhere. Apply now!”