MANILA, Philippines – Nearly 500 years after the Portuguese Ferdinand Magellan discovered the Philippines, the Southeast Asian country struggles to convince Lisbon to re-open its Manila embassy.
Philippine Ambassador to Portugal Philippe Jones Lhuillier told reporters on Thursday, March 6, that there is a sign of progress: Portugal, for one, has made it easier for Filipinos to get Schengen visas.
Portugal closed its embassy in the Philippines in 2011, Manila’s Department of Foreign Affairs said. Lhuillier said Portugal did this because of financial problems as, in fact, it “closed several embassies around the world.”
“They would really want to open here, by the way. Once they have funds, they will open,” Lhuillier said in a meeting with journalists as he visited the Philippines.
He said he has “been talking and talking” to Portugal to convince it to re-open its Manila embassy. When asked how exactly he does this, Lhuiller said, eliciting laughter: “By being kulit (persistent).”
“I always tell them that we could have better ties. If we have an embassy there, they should have an embassy right here,” the ambassador explained.
In a separate statement, he said the Philippines “could serve as an ideal entry point or staging area for Portuguese businesses” into the Southeast Asian market.
Easier to get visas
The good news, he said, is that Portugal agreed to a visa arrangement to make up for the absence of a Manila embassy. (Watch more in the video below)
Under this set-up, Fiipinos who want to visit Portugal can apply for Schengen visas through the Greek Embassy in Manila.
Lhuillier said that previously, Filipinos had “to fly to Jakarta Indonesia, where the nearest Portuguese embassy is located, to get their visas.”
To improve ties between the Philippines and Portugal, Lhuillier said he also forged a sister-city agreement between Cebu and the Portuguese city of Sabrosa. “The sister-city pact will allow the two cities to exchange ideas and resources that will promote their respective economic and tourism goals,” he said.
He is working on a similar partnership between Dumaguete City and Portugal’s Coimbra.
‘We have forgotten each other’
Lhuillier, who served as Philippine ambassador to Italy from 1999 to 2010, said he is keen on “reintroducing” the Philippines and Portugal to each other.
“We have forgotten each other from the time when Magellan came over in 1521, and especially a lot of people think Magellan is a Spaniard rather than a Portuguese,” he said.
Lhuillier added: “I have always said that Portugal is an important place. Why? Because this is an entry point to many parts of these Portuguese-speaking countries.”
Lhuillier urged Filipinos to visit Portugal because, for one, it is cheaper to travel there than in other European countries. Located in Portugal is also one of the major Catholic pilgrimage sites, the Shrine of Fatima.
Few Filipinos work in Portugal compared to other countries, however. In this European country that suffered a recession, the minimum wage for Filipino workers is 460 euro or P28,428.
The latest estimate by the Philippine government shows 2,626 Filipinos live in Portugal. – Rappler.com