I missed sending an article last Wednesday because we were doing a roadshow—an investment forum in two major cities of Taiwan, the capital Taipei and Taichung City, which is the center of light manufacturing industries.
I thought I could dash off a column on the train from Taipei and Taichung, until I realized that we took the high speed rail transit, which zoomed at 270 kilometers per hour. In 40 minutes, we had traveled what would normally take 2 and a half hours by land, even through the island’s ultra-modern superhighways.
Last June 19 and 20, the Department of Trade through its Board of Investments organized, along with Meco, two investment forums where we presented the case for the Philippine economic environment, as one ideal and sustainable for Taiwanese investors. In light of Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy, we want to entice more investors to come to the Philippines.
The delegation from the Philippines was headed by Trade undersecretary and Board of Investments managing director Dr. Perry Rodolfo, who did an excellent presentation of the advantages of doing business in our country.
Aside from Dr. Rodolfo, part of the team of speakers were Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority administrator and CEO Atty. Wilma Eisma, Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority general manager Pocholo Paragas, who spoke about tourism joint ventures and the Build! Build! Build! Program as well, and a long-time CEO of the biggest Taiwanese locator in Subic, Mr. Jeff Lin. BDO’s Jonathan Ravelas also gave a situationer on the economy from a private sector standpoint.
Some 250 executives and entrepreneurs attended the Taipei presentation at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, while more than a hundred attended the Taichung event the following day. Earlier on Monday, June 19, there were business-matching talks in the Meco office in Taipei supervised by our outgoing trade attaché, Benedict Uy, and his replacement come July, Mike Ignacio, who was transferred from India to Taiwan. Ben Uy has done an excellent job promoting the Philippines to Taiwan businessmen in the four years that he has been posted there, one year of which was already under the Duterte administration. The incoming trade officer, Mike Ignacio used to be in Brussels, London and San Francisco before his assignment to New Delhi, and now here in Taiwan.
Joining the delegation were top officials of the Clark Development Corp., Freeport Area of Bataan (formerly the Mariveles Export Processing Zone), Erlinda B. Pamintuan, chairman of the Subic-Clark Development Council, the policy-making body which synchronizes the investment programs for both important Central Luzon sites, as well as Meco directors.
The initial results were encouraging. Right after the seminars, some 20 business groups engaged their Philippine counterparts, expressing interest in locating here. A meeting between Clark International Airport general manager Alex Cauguiran and both China Airlines and EVA Airlines officials was likewise arranged.
On June 21, the Taiwan Food Fair was opened at the huge Nangang Exhibition Center in Taipei, where a dozen food producers from the Philippines exhibited their world-class products side-by-side with their counterparts from so many countries in Asean, Japan, Korea, Europe, North and Latin America.
Prior to the hectic three-day Philippine roadshow, DTI Undersecretary Rodolfo along with Atty. Bong Alikpala, Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez’s representative, also went to Kaohsiung City on June 6, along with this writer and Meco directors. Kaohsiung is Taiwan’s heavy industry center and is the site of one of the world’s largest and most modern seaports.
Through these all, we had to reassure potential investors that despite all the security issues that have hounded us these days specifically in Marawi City, the rest of the country and for that matter, the rest of Mindanao remains a safe and peaceful haven for foreign business and tourists as well.
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It wasn’t all business, though.
On June 19, the huge National Concert Hall of Taipei was filled to the rafters with a Taiwanese audience who enthusiastically applauded the Philippine Madrigal Singers on the last night of their Taiwan concert tour. Within a ten-day sojourn, our internationally acclaimed singers performed in Pingtung, Tainan, Taichung, and other venues in Taipei before their finale in Taiwan’s historic concert hall.
Aside from us in Meco, there were very few Filipinos in the audience, so I was pleasantly surprised at the following the Madrigals had among the Taiwanese.
They gave a deafening ovation that required three encores from the Madrigals, followed by a bonus: our singers sang the Beatles’ “Let It Be” at the grand staircase of the National Concert Hall, and the audience was allowed to record it in their mobile phones as a memento of that beautifully memorable night.
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I recall that in October of 2000, when I headed the Philippine Tourism Authority, we sent the Pangkat Kawayan of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines to Babylon for the Arab Cultural Festival held in that cradle of ancient civilization which was once called Mesopotamia.
Before that in June of 2000, then-DTI secretary Mar Roxas and I were asked to substitute for President Erap, who had to cancel a state visit to the United Kingdom on account of the ongoing strife in Maguindanao against the MILF. And who did we bring along to regale the Brits in the Millennium Dome by the Thames?
The Pangkat Kawayan, too, which was very well appreciated by the Brits who sponsored a Philippine Day in London, ably handled by then UK Ambassador to the Philippines Alan Collins and the late Philippine Ambassador to the Court of St. James, the very effective Cesar Bautista.
Through strife, through peace, through good times and bad times, music, the arts, and culture constitute a universal balm that bonds people of all races and beliefs together.
And the Philippines, with its plethora of talent and creativity, has so much to offer in this regard.
During the investments roadshow in Taiwan last week, I told the audiences that aside from business advantage or even personal security, the Philippines is a feel-good place any time and all the time, because it is “where Asia always wears a smile.”