Philippine Ambassador to Egypt Leslie J Baja said that his embassy organised a study tour for delegates of the Egyptian General Authority for Investment and Free Zones (GAFI) in July, adding that GAFI completed a one-week tour of Philippine industrial and technological parks, visiting various IT and manufacturing zones in Metro Manila, Cebu, Laguna, Baguio, and Batangas.
“A follow-up visit to the Philippines by GAFI and the Egyptian Chamber of Commerce is expected later this year,” the ambassador told Daily News Egypt, adding that a visit to Egypt later this year by a Philippine business delegation is also being finalised.
On Monday, the Philippine embassy in Cairo celebrated its national day, which was postponed from 12 June, when it commemorated the proclamation of independence of the Filipino people from Spain in 1898. From 28 May until 12 June, all local and national government agencies displayed the national flag in celebration of independence. Schools, private establishments, and households were encouraged to do the same.
Daily News Egypt sat down for an interview Baja, on the occasion of the National Day, the transcript for which is below, lightly edited for clarity:
Philippine’s economy is developing very well in recent years. Can you provide more information about it?
In 2017, the World Bank ranked the Philippines as the third best performer in Asia, after Vietnam and China. The economy grew 6.9% year-over-year in 2016 and 6.7% y-o-y in 2017.
The Philippine government amended laws, rules, and regulations in order to reduce restrictions on foreign participation in certain economic activities. One example is the Republic Act No 11032, or the Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Government Service Delivery Act, signed on 28 May 2018.
This new law will make the process of putting up and running a business in the Philippines much easier and more efficient, for both Filipino and foreign businesses.
Also, the massive public infrastructure development programme called “Build, Build, Build” will be vital to the country’s economic growth. It will support a positive growth trajectory and enhance the quality of life in both urban and rural communities.
The government is also heavily investing in education and health, which are considered as the “soft infrastructure” imperative for sustainable economic development. The recently passed Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act will grant full government subsidies for tuition in state universities and colleges, and the Universal Health Care Bill, once passed, will grant every Filipino the right to quality health by virtue of citizenship.
Likewise, the Bangsamoro Organic Law (Republic Act No 11054) is a historic milestone law that will provide the basic government structure for the Bangsamoro Autonomous region, and is expected to bring lasting peace, order, and economic development for the Muslim region and greater Mindanao area in Southern Philippines.
How does Philippines celebrate its national day?
The country’s Independence Day is on 12 June. This annual national holiday commemorates the proclamation of independence of the Filipino people from Spain in 1898.
From 28 May until 12 June, all local and national government agencies display the national flag in celebration of independence. Schools, private establishments, and households are encouraged to do the same.
On 12 June every year, the official festivities take place, including the raising of the national flag at various historical sites in the country. The president usually presides over the flag-raising and the Philippine Independence Day Parade in the Rizal Park in Manila. This is followed by the vin d’honneur held at the Malacañan Palace (presidential palace) with high government officials and the diplomatic corps as guests.
Likewise, in Philippine embassies and in countries where there are big concentrations of Filipinos, receptions, parties, cultural performances, and parades are also being held and organised, usually with the active participation of the Filipino community.
What is current condition of Philippine tourism industry? What are main sources of tourists for Philippines?
In 2017, the tourism industry contributed 12.2% to the national economy. Likewise, the 2017 World Travel and Tourism Council reported that the travel and tourism industry contributed 18.1% of the total direct and indirect employment in the Philippines. Bohol, Cebu, Palawan, and Manila remain the country’s top tourist destinations.
As of May 2018, tourists visiting the Philippines come from South Korea (22.20% of the total share), China (17.60%), and the United States (14.58%).
Egypt is the Philippines’ second largest source of tourists in the Middle East, after Bahrain.
Were there any business missions between Philippines, Egypt in recent years? What were outcomes of these visits?
In July this year, the Philippine embassy in Cairo organized a study tour for delegates of GAFI, which completed a one-week tour of Philippine industrial and technological parks, visiting various IT and manufacturing zones in Metro Manila, Cebu, Laguna, Baguio, and Batangas.
A follow-up visit to the Philippines by GAFI and the Egyptian Chamber of Commerce is expected later this year.
Likewise, a visit to Egypt later this year by a Philippine business delegation is also being finalised.
How many Filipinos visit Egypt annually? What places do they visit?
Many Filipinos are fascinated with the rich cultural heritage of Ancient Egypt. They visit the Pyramids, museums, and well-known archaeological and historical sites, including places with religious significance.
A growing number of Filipinos visit Egypt due to the rising popularity of Holy Land tours, in which Filipinos make pilgrimage visits to Egypt, Jordan, and Israel.
How many Filipinos work in Egypt? What kinds of challenges do they face?
As of May 2018, Egypt is home to about 5,700 Filipinos and approximately 78% of them live in Cairo. Many are professional (skilled and service) workers. Filipinos married to Egyptians and their children also represent a considerable number. There are also students taking courses in different schools and universities in Cairo.
There are also numerous Filipino household service workers in Egypt. Most of the problems they encounter are related to labour and working conditions. Some are being hired without employment contracts and some are not provided with the necessary work permits and visas by their employers.
There are also domestic issues in Filipino-Egyptian families every now and then.
How does Philippines deal with issue of Rohingya people?
The Philippine government welcomes the establishment by Myanmar of an independent commission of inquiry to investigate alleged human rights violations in the Rakhine State. Ambassador Rosario Manalo, former undersecretary of foreign affairs of the Philippines, was appointed head of the commission.
The Philippines considers the establishment of the commission a positive step towards addressing the Rohingya issue.