Despite being in a recession, Spain will continue to turn a “fraternal eye” on its former colony, the Philippines.
No less than former Spanish Defense Minister Jose Bono made the assurance at a press conference in a Makati City hotel on Monday that was convened by Spanish and Filipino diplomatic and civil society groups to launch the sixth Tribuna España-Filipinas this week.
The Tribuna—established in 2005 by the Barcelona-based Casa Asia and the Spanish Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation and the Philippines’ Fundacion Santiago—provides a regular venue for dialogue among business, academic, civil society and government representatives from both countries in order to strengthen bilateral ties.
At the press conference, Bono, a member of the 30-person Spanish delegation this year, said Filipino-Hispano ties would be maintained and strengthened despite Spain’s “struggling to overcome a very serious economic situation.”
“Even when the going gets rough, we turn our eye to the Philippines always in a very fraternal manner,” said Bono in his message in Spanish that was translated by Tribuna spokesperson Chaco Molina.
Molina, in a press statement, said “the Philippines and Spain share a very special and unique relationship, so much so that Spain has pledged to continue providing grants to the country to support health and education programs despite budget cuts brought on by austerity measures in Europe.”
“Despite reductions in the budget for development aid, Spain has assured that the Philippines will be the only country in Asia to continue to receive such support in the coming years,” Molina said.
Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (Aecid)-Asia Pacific Director Jose Luis Martin Yague said Spanish aid to the Philippines in the last five years totaled about 180 million euros.
“We hope that in the next years, the level of disbursement will be 50 million euros,” he said at the press conference.
A June 2012 publication of the AECID showed that Spain was the top bilateral donor to the United Nations system in the Philippines, with a 22-million euro contribution.
Bono acknowledged, however, that while Spain’s ties to the Philippines may have deep historical roots, it “has not blossomed to the level of benefits that a country of such significance should maintain.”
“Our bilateral contributions have not surpassed the 300-million euro mark. We are aware that geography has a mandate which is as persistent as that of politics. We’re here to defy those challenges of distance,” Bono said.
In an interview after the press conference, Casa Asia Director General Ramon Moreno said the sixth Tribuna España-Filipinas was supposed to be held last year but was postponed due to the economic crisis and lack of delegates.
Long way to go
He also admitted that while culturally the two countries may be very close, from an economic point of view “we have a long way to go.”
He said the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs only started drafting Asia Pacific-oriented programs in 2000.
“We hope this tribunal can help… to present the good economic potential of the Philippines and the opportunity for Spanish companies to come here. In turn, we would like to receive as well investments from the Philippines,” Moreno said.
He was quick to point out, however, that the forum was more a “brainstorming session” than an economic summit.
Bono, for his part, stressed that the two countries’ affinity for each other “is far stronger than economic interest.”
Very selfless interest
“Spain has a very selfless interest in the Philippines,” he said.
Bono described Spain-Philippine relations as being similar to “a tree that has more roots than fruits.”
“Roots in history throughout centuries. Your names, surnames, your very own history is also our history,” he said.
The sixth Tribuna Espana-Filipinas will be held on Jan. 29-30 at the AIM Conference Center in Makati.
The Spanish delegation will include prominent personages such as Bono, Moreno, Deputy House Speaker Dolors Montserrat, Instituto Cervantes Secretary General Rafael Rodriguez-Ponga and other multisectoral leaders from Spain.
The Philippine delegation will include Budget Secretary Butch Abad, Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras, NAPC Secretary Joel Rocamora, Education Secretary Armin Luistro and presidential political adviser Ronald Llamas, among others.