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MANILA, Philippines – Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala kicked off a 10-day sojourn around Asia on Monday, April 17, with a visit to Malacañang Palace as President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s first visitor from Europe.
“Philippines is the starting point of my 10-day Asian tour. It shows that your country and your region are very important for the Czech Republic,” said Fiala in a joint press conference with Marcos following a bilateral meeting between the two leaders.
The Czech head of government flew in late Sunday, April 16, and will be flying out by Tuesday, April 18. After Manila, he flies to Southeast Asian neighbors Indonesia, Singapore, and Vietnam then to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
Before leaving Prague, Fiala highlighted the “economic importance of the Indo-Pacific region.” Other leaders from the European Union have made the same pronouncements, especially in the wake of Russia’s war in Ukraine and China’s push to be the leading superpower. The Indo-Pacific – Southast Asia, especially – is seen as a promising area of investment.
The two leaders, said Fiala, spoke about working together in the fields of agriculture – particularly in dairy processing. The two also talked about the Philippines’ labor export policy.
“We also highly appreciate the Philippine system of the recruiting of workers for work in other countries. Czech companies are very satisfied with Philippine citizens. We are discussing the possibilities to expand migration for work,” said Fiala, who flew in with a delegation of businessmen from the Czech Republic.
Marcos has been keen on selling the Philippines to the world – an argument he’s made to justify his many travels abroad as president.
Joining Marcos in the bilateral meeting were top Palace officials including Special Assistant to the President Anton Lagdameo, Defense officer-in- charge Undersecretary Charlie Galvez, Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo, and Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin.
Communications Secretary Cheloy Garafil and the president’s son freshman legislator Representative Ferdinand Alexander Marcos, also joined the bilateral meeting.
As expected, discussions on security issues that affect the region and the rest of the world were also priorities for the two. “We had a very interesting exchange of views regarding regional and international issues, including the West Philippine Sea and Cross Strait Relations and the war in Ukraine, amongst others,” said Marcos.
Fiala himself did not mention Ukraine, which has been under siege from Russia for over a year now, or the West Philippine Sea, or the area in the South China Sea which China has claimed as its own.
The Czech Republic is relatively close to Ukraine and has expressed support for the besieged country. Back in Prague, thousands have protested against Fiala’s government, with some sectors accusing him of prioritizing Ukraine aid over addressing hardship caused by inflation in the Czech Republic.
The South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea, has been the arena for China’s aggression. The Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo, for instance, has characterized harassment from the Chinese as a “daily occurrence” in the resource-rich waterway. Fiala has said that the Indo-Pacific and Central Asia would be a “counterbalance to China” in terms of foreign trade.
In Manila, he highlighted Czech expertise in defense, milk, and transportation.
“Our companies offer solutions in many fields, many areas, agriculture, aviation, transportation, or space technologies. Defense and security cooperation is very important in our relations,” said Fiala.
During their first meeting in Belgium on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations-European Union (ASEAN-EU) Summit, Fiala and Marcos spoke about technology transfer to benefit the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Fiala said he “supports” discussions in providing the Philippines with transport aircraft and other aviation projects. “Our company Česká zbrojovka offers extensive modernization to the Philippine Armed Forces. This project also includes transfer of technology,” he added.
What about human rights?
Wrapping up his summary on their meeting, Marcos said they “emphasized our countries’ shared commitment to democracy, to human rights, and the rule of law.”
Human rights talk is crucial in engaging with the European Union – and it intertwines with the economy.
In 2023, the Philippines needs to renew its Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) status, a perk that allows the tariff-free entry of over 6,200 Philippine products into the EU. That perk, however, is hinged on human rights obligations.
The Philippines’ human rights record has not been ideal at all, especially during the administration of former president Rodrigo Duterte. Prior to being elected, Marcos promised to “continue” with Duterte’s policies. Duterte faces an investigation by the International Criminal Court over his so-called “war on drugs” both as president and mayor of Davao City.
Marcos has thus far stuck to the arguments of Duterte and his men and has challenged the ICC probe.
Fiala’s visit to Malacanang concluded with an official dinner at the Palace Ceremonial Hall, the launch of a book documenting the two countries’ diplomatic relations, and a fireworks display in Fiala’s honor. – Rappler.com