The essence of the task of a diplomat is to build bridges between countries and peoples. I found, upon my arrival in the UAE in January this year, that Filipinos have been successfully undertaking this task long before the first Filipino diplomat ever set foot in the Emirates.
I say this as we mark the 49th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Philippines and the UAE. Immediately after the Founding Father Sheikh Zayed brought together the emirates into the UAE we know today, Filipinos were part of the first group of expatriates that came to the country to help build its foundations. They were among the first to come to the UAE to build the bridges and buildings of this young nation. Those Filipinos founded and cemented the strong ties between our two countries, which have endured to this day.
The work that I and eight previous ambassadors before me have been doing is firmly founded on that friendship and solidarity. Today, we take great pride in the fact that thousands of Filipinos reside in the UAE, and are held in high esteem in the business, medical, construction and creative sectors. In whatever field they may be, whichever position they may hold, Filipinos are always held in high regard, respected for their skill and professionalism, having found their place, and success, in the UAE.
On many occasions, the UAE leadership, led by President Sheikh Mohamed, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Prime Minister and Vice President, have expressed the UAE’s high regard for Filipinos. Sheikh Mohamed has honoured frontline Filipino medics who served in the fight against Covid-19, calling them personally, checking on their conditions, and assuring them of his support. Likewise, when I presented my credentials to Sheikh Mohammed, and met other high-level officials, they repeatedly and unequivocally raised the contributions of the Filipino people to UAE’s economy and social fabric.
This recognition has generated considerable goodwill. One example is in the way the UAE, through the Emirates Red Crescent, provided humanitarian support to the Philippines in many instances, such as Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, the eruption of the Taal volcano in 2020 and the provision of equipment and medical aid at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.
A little over two months ago, during the Philippine’s National Day celebrations, the UAE sent 50 tonnes of relief goods, food and medicine for the impending eruption of Mayon volcano. What is significant about this gesture is that even before the need arose, the UAE already made provisions. Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr, thanked Sheikh Mohamed in a letter and they also spoke on the phone, further discussing ways forward. It was also during this phone call that Mr Marcos accepted Sheikh Mohamed’s invitation to attend the Cop28 environmental summit that the UAE will host this year.
On labour, which has long been the primary basis of our strong relations, in 2021 we broke new ground with the third Joint Committee Meeting on Bilateral Labour Co-operation. More recently, I had a meeting with Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation where the UAE indicated strongly that it needs more Filipino workers across a wide range of sectors. A bilateral agreement on combatting human trafficking was signed in September 2019, and a deal on consular co-operation was signed in April 2021 – both are important agreements that ensure mechanisms are in place to protect the rights and welfare of Filipinos in the UAE.
On the back of this solid foundation, many Filipinos in the UAE have built on the opportunities given to them, and made the transition from employee to entrepreneur, becoming business owners through sheer determination, hard work and faith. I have come across many such success stories and had the privilege of meeting several them. They are truly remarkable and an inspiration to all.
What will surprise most people is that in the past 15 months alone, we signed three important agreements between our two countries on space co-operation, on agriculture and on investment promotion and protection. The two countries are also finalising an MoU that will bolster co-operation in a number of areas, including artificial intelligence. Agreements on defence, culture and free trade are in the works. Truly, these areas of co-operation have expanded in a manner that the Filipino diplomats of the early years could only have imagined.
The coming visit of Mr Marcos for Cop28 further opens opportunities for sustainable development co-operation, and we are hoping that an agreement on climate change co-operation which the Philippines is proposing to the UAE, as well as the Framework Agreement on Renewable Energy, will be signed during this visit. The Philippines, counted as among the countries most vulnerable to climate change, can benefit from the UAE’s expertise and resources, in terms of renewable energy. Likewise, the Emirates’ moves towards a knowledge-based economy will need a young workforce adept in science, technology and AI – something that the Philippines can provide.
At the end of the day, there is one driving force as to why the Philippines and the UAE are working together: this is to forge a partnership that will enable each country to prepare a bright future for the next generation of Filipinos and Emiratis.
As we look forward to the golden anniversary of UAE-Philippines relations next year, I, on behalf of the Filipino community in the Emirates, take this opportunity to thank the UAE leadership for recognising the efforts and contributions of Filipinos towards the growth and development of the country’s economy and society. It is our hope that moving forward, the partnership between the Philippines and the UAE will grow even deeper and more meaningful.