BELOW THE LINE
By JOSÉ ABETO ZAIDE
Whatever our beef about our mayhem traffic, or matters in thunder, lightning, or in rain, a best-kept secret about a posting in Manila is the plentitude of foreign balikbayan ambassadors.
Esra Cankorur first served here as second secretary at the Embassy of Turkey from 1995-1997. She returned in 2014 to her dream post, as the ambassador of Turkey to the Philippines. Conversant with local terrain and key political players in the capital, she fast-tracked several “firsts” – the first visit to PH of Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoglu (August 2017) with simultaneous endorsement of Sectoral Dialogue Partnership with ASEAN; followed by the visit of Turkey Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. We had the first Joint Economic Commission Meeting, the broadcast of a Turkish drama series on Philippine TV; a port call of a Turkish navy frigate; electronic visa facilitation; and, accelerating people-to-people exchanges, and Turkish Airlines direct flights between İstanbul and Manila. In reciprocity, Senate President Franklin Drilon visited Turkey in 2015; followed by the visit of Tourism Secretary Wanda Corazon Tulfo Teo to Turkey; and Philippine Air Force chose Turkish-made T129 helicopters after the visit of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.
When Turkey assumed the chairmanship of the Independent Decommissioning Body within the Southern Philippines Peace Process, it included development cooperation projects. Its strong support for the peace process between the Government of the Philippines and the MNLF resulted in the Peace Committee for South Philippines under the auspices of the OIC.
Filipino students now pursue higher studies in Turkish universities on scholarship grants. For her last national day reception, and as a special treat to friends and colleagues before she winds up her bountiful five- year tour of duty, Ambassador Cancorur flew in national dances Zeybek, Trabzon, and Silifke.
Ambassador Cankorur has made her farewell calls on Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro Locsin Jr. and last Wednesday, 12 December 2018, on President Rodrigo Duterte, who conferred on her the Order of Sikatuna, rank of Datu Grand Cross, (Gold, Katangiang Ginto)
At the Japanese Embassy reception on the 85th birth anniversary of His Majesty, the Emperor of Japan, and the 30th anniversary of the Enthronement, Ambassador Koji Haneda was dapper in his hand-embroidered barong. A balikbayan Ambassador, he had picked up the Filipino dress shirt from his first stint in Manila in the 1980s. (But he’s not revealing by whom. to be fair to all tailors.)
Challenge and Opportunity. The returnee envoy said, he had revisited familiar places and renewed acquaintances, finding the same warm Filipino hospitality, irrepressible sense of humor, and incurable addiction to Karaoke (a famous Japanese innovation which makes the world go round). But like Rip van Winkle who awoke three decades after, he was aghast at our chock-a-block traffic. Nostalgic of quieter days when he could have a cocktail at Manila Hotel and dinner in Quezon City, he seized the near stand-still moment and said that Japan will soon build Manila’s first subway and commuter railway. (To facilitate transfer of technology and introduce safe and efficient railway culture, Japan will establish the Philippine Railway Institute for the management and maintenance training of Filipino staff.)
Local Politics. The ambassador affirmed Japan’s commitment to President Duterte’s “Build, Build, Build,” program and upgraded Japan’s representation in Davao to a Consulate General, (a class act and concession to local politics.) Two weeks earlier, President Duterte, had inaugurated the New Bohol International Airport, the first-ever “Eco Airport” equipped with sustainable Japanese technologies.
Philippine tourism to Japan has increased fivefold to 430,000 (and the end is not in sight). Japanese food is popular and because Japan is one of the top travel destinations of choice, the ambassador dangles the new 10-year multiple-entry visa
SPORTS NEWS. Two half-Filipino sumo wrestlers (Japan’s national sport) smashed records; and one of the two is grand champion. Three female Japanese-Filipino athletes clinched Asian Games medals for the Philippines; and a Filipino gymnast who trained in Japan became the first-Filipino and only Southeast Asian medalist at the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships. Ambassador Haneda expressed the hope to ramp up friendly exchanges in sports at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
At the highest level, President Rodrigo Duterte and Prime Minister Abe had their 6th Summit last October. Our defense, maritime, and counter-terrorism cooperation manifested in successful completion of the delivery of aircrafts patrol vessels, and high-speed boats. At this critical juncture of the Mindanao peace process, Japan is committed to strengthening assistance for peace and development in the region.
A special guest at the Japanese reception last week was Mrs. Ollie Jose, the recently widowed wife of Filipino tennis great Johnny Jose Jr., the last Filipino to win a gold medal at the Asian Games tennis in 1962. The then Crown Prince Akihito, a tennis buff himself, first met our tennis star at a match in Tokyo. Sports proved to be more than passing acquaintance because when Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko visited the Philippines in January, 2016, they sought out Mr. Jose. And on news of the death of Jose, the Emperor charged Ambassador Haneda to convey his condolences to the bereaved widow.