KUWAIT: In celebration of the 118th Philippine Independence Day, a diplomatic reception was held on Sunday at the Jumeirah Messila Beach Hotel, attended by Kuwait’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Asian Affairs Ambassador Ali Al-Saeed. Philippine Ambassador to Kuwait Renato Pedro Villa welcomed guests and dignitaries from various embassies and lauded his country’s strong and growing diplomatic ties with Kuwait. The Philippines marks its independence day on June 12, but the celebration was held earlier in respect of the holy month of Ramadan, due early next month.
In his speech, Villa said the Philippines recognized the state of Kuwait a few weeks after its independence in 1961. In 1979, the Philippines opened its embassy in Kuwait, while Kuwait established its embassy in Manila in 1996. “Many of us are aware that Filipinos are practically in every corner of the world – either as immigrants or contract workers,” he said.
According to Villa, as of Feb 2016, there were about 220,000 Filipinos in Kuwait, up by 14 percent compared to 188,000 in Dec 2014. “Remittances by Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) amounted to $36 billion last year and admittedly helped prop the Philippine economy, and for several years contributed to economic growth and development,” he said. But Villa said there are downsides in the OFW phenomenon, because the best and brightest Filipinos are taking jobs abroad seeking greener pastures, and a few get in trouble with foreign authorities or are mistreated and abused.
Trade value increased
On trade, the total value increased significantly over the last five years. “The total trade value between the two countries amounted to $69 million in 2011, rose to $127 million in 2013, dropped to $81 million in 2014 and significantly jumped to $779 million in 2015. The sudden increase was due to our importation of petroleum products, and the balance of trade has always been consistently in favor of Kuwait. For the Philippines, our top export was bananas, and as you can see, they are everywhere in the supermarkets of Kuwait,” said Villa.
“Interestingly, in 2015, Kuwait Investment Authority (KIA), through its investment bank, invested $560 million in Philippines stocks. We also saw some direct investments from Kuwait. An investor purchased an island in Palawan and developed it into a major resort. Another Kuwaiti investor, who had 1,000 hectares of land in Davao, turned it into a banana plantation. This was 10 years ago – now the investor has an additional 500 hectares of land. Also, a group of Kuwaiti investors bought 180 hectares of land near Clark Air Field in Pampanga. They are building a luxury hospital complete with cutting-edge technology, and are developing world-class medical tourism facilities,” he said.
Villa said the Philippines is trying its best to cope with the ever-growing number of tourists and visitors from neighboring countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore. “The number of tourists breached the five million mark last year – however, the numbers are too small compared to our neighbors. From Kuwait, it is now easier to travel to the Philippines, with several flights weekly. Kuwait Airways for example earlier flew only four times a week – it has now added two additional flights to Manila. Cebu Pacific has four flights a week, and the national carrier Philippines Airlines also flies four times a week flight to Philippines,” Villa added.
Villa also mentioned the successful Philippine presidential elections on May 9, 2016, which according to him, will be the fifth peaceful transfer of power after the people power revolution of 1986. “It was generally peaceful and the canvassing of votes was done in record time, thanks to an automated election system. Rodrigo Duterte is also the first president to be elected from Mindanao. We are hopeful that there will be changes for the better in our beloved land,” he concluded.
By Ben Garcia