By EDDIE ILARDE
THE earnest need for unity among countries of historical and cultural homogeneity in Southeast Asia, Africa, South America, the Middle East, and in other parts of the world today, is viewed as a mature awakening of countries long dominated and ruled by European colonialists such as England, France, Portugal, Spain, and the Netherlands.
Personal sentiments – shared by people related by common descent and tradition – such as the commonly held “strength in unity,” have been roused by present events of global significance; alarming developments in the newborn economic and military powers such as China, Iran, and North Korea vis-à-vis the United States and Europe, have stirred long-hidden feelings of grudge and rancor against old antagonists. Bitter lessons in geopolitical subjugation and the scars it left, fortunately, have been healed by time, and this awakening is tempered by sparks of grace and civility – and the world heaves a sigh of relief.
The birth and success of ASEAN is the pleasant offshoot of the ardent need of third world countries in Southeast Asia to unite for common good and regionalize for political and economic reasons. The foreboding in the South China Sea today, for example – for reasons of mutual interest – has brought the mutual respect of the Philippines and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam closer. Their bilateral relations which have warmed after Vietnam’s reunification, bodes well for both in their vigilance against the possibility of a repeat of foreign incursions. After the formalization of bilateral relations on July 12, 1976, Vietnam and the Philippines have finally cemented their friendly relations, participated in voluntarily by private people-to-people organizations such as the Philippine-Vietnam Friendship Association and its counterpart in Hanoi, and hastening bigger business interchange, now in the billions of dollars from both sides.
This welcome concordance is a happy reminder of the historic bond between these two countries. Centuries before the arrival of the colonialists from “poor and needy Europe,” maritime trade and commercial exchanges were already in flower between the Philippines (Maharlika) and Vietnam, spanning the Gulf of Tonkin and the Sulu Seas, bringing migratory indigenous people who eventually assimilated into the Tausogs and Yakans and have made the Philippine their permanent home. Without any formal governmental fiat in those years, friendly relations between our countries have flourished without problems, transcending ideological and political differences. The present generation may well be made aware of this friendship which was enshrined in the heart of both peoples centuries ago. The physical affinity and the exemplary character of our people are the “keys to history in the working of Providence.” As the young and genial Amb. Ly Quoc Tuan, ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of Vietnam to the Philippines, aptly said: “As propounders of international peace, both our countries must treasure the gains of lasting peace in our world, and continue our friendly commercial and cultural exchanges for mutual progress and prosperity.”
The Philippines is proud of the fact that the country’s affinity with Vietnam has always been valued and guarded by the Filipino people. Pres. Ramon Magsaysay’s “Operation Brotherhood” for Viet refugees was active with Philippine doctors to South Vietnam in 1954. Pres. Diosdado Macapagal spearheaded technical aid to Vietnam followed by numerous other kinds of assistance. Pres. Ferdinand Marcos had a more progressive foreign policy when, even before the fall of Saigon; he established ties with Hanoi, “to broaden economic ties” focusing mainly on economic and cordial considerations. Pres. Fidel V. Ramos buttressed this country’s friendship with Vietnam – being the “warrior for peace” as head of the Philippine Civic Action Group during the Vietnam War – with a visit to Vietnam, underscoring our country’s enduring affinity with that country. This noble affirmation of friendship was made even more genuine with Pres. Rody Duterte’s recent visit to Vietnam and meeting with Pres. Tran Dai Quang on September 29, 2016.
There is every reason for our congress to make July 12 every year a “Philippine-Vietnam Friendship Day.”
(Eddie Ilarde (PO Box 107 Makati, 1222), is a former senator and is founding chairman of the Philippine-Vietnam Friendship Association.