We had the privilege to dine and chat with new South Korean Ambassador to the Philippines Han Dong-man and easily concluded that Philippine business (renewables, agriculture, and tourism) and military relations will flourish extensively under his watch.
The Korean ambassador is a 30-year veteran-diplomat with huge exposures in trade issues, policy planning, and public relations. He has been assigned to the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and Algeria.
The South Koreans are also coming in big in renewable forms of clean energy as wind and solar as well as coal in Quezon province and an LNG Terminal Hub. They are aware that the nation has a very expensive power rate which when corrected can readily improve our competitive advantage. The Koreans are also keen on sharing their knowledge in nuclear physics, fully aware that industrial Japan has many nuclear power plants.
A Korean firm, likewise, is reportedly mulling a 1,000 room hotel somewhere near the Bikini Beach area in Bohol. Many Koreans, per Ambassador Han, are gung-ho in visiting Bohol but would later find out there are not enough rooms. Some of the available ones are also quite expensive, the Koreans have noted.
Also a graduate of Communication Arts, the ambassador noticed the absence of unique cultural shows which are very popular in many ASEAN countries. He was particularly impressed with the iconic Catholic churches in Manila, Northern Luzon, Cebu and Bohol, many of them more than a century old. They could be impressive items in a promotional portfolio designed to attract some 10 million Catholics among the 60 million South Korean populace.
South Koreans are now the leading tourist visitors of the country at 1.5 million visitors and the ambassador revealed that President Duterte personally asked his help to bring that number to 2 million.
The Koreans are also active in rice technology and project participants particularly in the propagation of the superior Japonica rice under the auspices of the KOPIA (Korean Program on International Agriculture (since 2009) and sending Filipino rice farmers for an observation tour in their country. This is expected to boost the farmers’ productivity given that they have received Korean tractors, transplanters, and threshers. Next year, KOPIA will target the technology transfer for vegetable farming.
The Korean government is set to fund the biggest (P11.2-billion) irrigation dam outside Luzon in the hinterlands of Calinog, Iloilo (Jalaur) which will irrigate 22,230 hectares of the existing rice lands and 9,500 hectares of new ones spanning across 33 municipalities of Iloilo province.
Ambassador Han Dong-man is proud of the US$2-million grant his government earlier granted to the RP-Korea Seafood Processing Plant in Dagupan City, one of the most modern in the country. The complex includes a bangus research center, a live fish market, an aquarium building, and the Asian Fisheries Academy.
Meantime, getting good grades is the security situation in the country has improved in the first two years of Duterte. Ten Koreans were killed in the previous years, only two in 2017 and one this year.
Ambassador Han, however, disclosed that there are more Koreans in Vietnam than here in the Philippines as well as investments are flocking there because of Vietnam’s good tax and fiscal incentives. He warned that any more reduction in incentives for foreign investors here as contemplated under TRAIN 2 will worsen the situation.
South Korea is happy to be part of the modernization of the Philippine military, heretofore one of the weakest in Southeast Asia. RP has bought a dozen FA-50 fighter jets from them which became handy during the recent Marawi uprising.
Ambassador Han cited that Koreans have very long memories and will not forget the efforts of the Philippines to send combatants during the 1950-55 Korean Peninsula War against the North Koreans and the Chinese. The country was the first nation to respond for the assistance call of the United Nations then.
“Koreans have long memories and we do not forget the contribution of the Philippines in securing our present-day freedom and democracy,” the ambassador concluded. The warm RP-Sokor relationships today is but an extension of that old sense of brotherhood.
(Dejaresco, a former banker, is a financial consultant, media practitioner, and book author. He is a Life Member and Chair of the Broadcast Media of FINEX. His views here, however, are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of FINEX. firstname.lastname@example.org).