Press Release
June 24, 2010

On the celebration of the
8th Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day

Senator Edgardo J. Angara

For decades since the Philippines gained its independence, relations between Spain and the Philippines had been dormant. It has not been as constant and intensive as Spain's relations with its former colonies in Latin America and Africa.

The period after 1898 is a hazy phase in Philippine-Spanish relations. Official relations dwindled dramatically. Very few colonists remained in the Philippines. By the end of Spanish rule, only 34,000 Spanish mestizos remained in the country. In most parts of the archipelago, the Spanish friar was the sole representative of Spanish authority and culture.

By the 1940s, both the Spanish language and culture were in decline. The Spanish language was not widely spoken or taught, owing to the takeover of the American system of education that used English as the medium of instruction.

Native writers were soon producing more works in English than in any other language. In 1946, there were 139 dailies and magazines in English, 34 in the native dialects, 9 in Chinese, but only 6 in Spanish. The circulation of the Spanish publications was 19,040, as against 836,449 for the English ones.

Philippine-Spanish relations plunged to its lowest point in 1945.

Rekindling ties

Fortunately, fast forward to six decades later, Philippine-Spanish relations began to reawaken.

History scholars claim that nations acknowledge shared interests, values and rules that distinguish them from others. Three-hundred years of interaction between Spain and the Philippines have built enduring social structures upon which we define our identities and interests.

Independence did not erase the ties that had developed between our two countries. Our common culture, religion and centuries-long history make it natural for a special affinity to exist, irrespective of changing political circumstances or separate development paths.

With history as the inspiration, I authored and sponsored in 2003 the Senate bill which set June 30 of every year as the Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day. This is the Philippines' way of paying tribute to the shared bonds and enduring friendship between our country and Spain.

It was inspired by the dramatic Siege of Baler, one of the most significant stories of the Philippine war of independence against Spain.

June 30 is an important day for both the Philippines and Spain. It was the date President Emilio Aguinaldo instructed the Baler katipuneros to regard the Spanish soldiers besieged inside the Baler church as friends instead of prisoners of war. The event it celebrates the best traits of both races -the nobility of character, chivalry and generosity of spirit of the Filipino, and the valor and loyalty of the Spanish.

Energizing relations through cooperation

As we hold the 8th celebration of the Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day, we see a continued reawakening of Philippine-Spanish relations.

This is made real by major initiatives in the area of legislation, culture, education, language, sports.

o June 30, 2003 marked the very first celebration of the Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day in my hometown Baler. Since then, it has been celebrated annually throughout various towns in the Philippines like Iloilo, Bulacan, Cavite, and in Spain in Madrid, Barcelona, Palencia, Almonte in Huelva

o In 2005, Casa Asia initiated the Tribuna España Filipinas as an annual event to serve as a platform for dialogue on matters of mutual interest (ie., investment, tourism, trade, culture and education).

o In the same year, a six-member football delegation from Andalucia visited Baler to open sports clinics to promote football among the youth of Aurora. This has also extended to Negros Occidental, where the sport has been adopted successfully.

o In March 2005, the Spanish government donated 1.245.000 euros through by the Agencia Española de Cooperaci√≥n Internacional (AECI) for an anti-poverty program.

o The state visit of Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to Spain in December 2007 produced various agreements and commitments in the areas of investment, trade, culture and education.

o In June 2007, a delegation of the Philippine Senate visited Spain upon the invitation of Senator Jose Manuel Barquero, the President of the Spain-Philippines Parliamentary Friendship Group.

A landmark cooperation agreement between the Philippine Senate and the Spanish Senate was signed. Under it, parliamentary exchanges shall be organized to discuss topics of mutual interest, especially those related to poverty alleviation, the promotion of sports, arts and culture and tourism and infrastructure as vectors for economic development. This is the first time that an accord of this kind was signed by the two parliamentary organs of both countries.

o In April 2010, President Arroyo received the prestigious Premio Internacional Don Quixote de la Mancha from King Juan Carlos I for reintroducing the Spanish language in Philippine secondary education.

In the area of legislation, the Philippine Congress voted in 2008 to abolish the death penalty in the penal system. His Majesty King Juan Carlos I praised this act as a symbol of the Philippines' and Spain's shared value for the dignity of human life.

In addition, the Philippine Senate ratified the Treaty on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons between the Philippines and Spain. The treaty allows the physical transfer of Filipinos incarcerated in Spanish prison back to the Philippines, and vice versa, so that they can be closer to their support system of family and friends in their own country.

Future areas of cooperation

With Philippine-Spanish relations gaining momentum, I propose some areas of cooperation, which are most relevant and inexpensive given the hard economic times.

First, technical cooperation in the areas of energy, tourism, heritage conservation, and the creative arts.

The Philippines has a huge demand for energy, and an even bigger potential for renewable energy. However, there is so much that needs to be done to harness these renewable energy resources. Spain, meanwhile, is a major producer of "eolic" or wind energy. Certainly we should learn from Spain's experience in developing this clean and sustainable source of energy.

Furthermore, Spain is among the world's greatest tourist destinations. Tourism is an important mover of the Spanish economy.

The Philippines, meanwhile, is an immensely beautiful country, with great potentials for eco-tourism. We want to tap this tourism know-how which Spain has put to use so effectively.

We have much to learn--not only in terms of promoting potential tourist attractions - but also in terms of hotel construction, modernizing facilities, training manpower, networking with tourism organizations and building a strategic tourism plan.

Another industry which Spain dominates is cultural tourism. The Philippines can learn immensely from Spain's heritage conservation. Like most cities in Europe, Spain has kept its ancient monuments. Despite industrialization, the government of Spain has taken pains to preserve these ancient buildings, which now attract millions of visitors each year.

We ourselves will benefit from learning how to use our plural culture as our tourism attraction. Apart from attracting other foreign nations, we want to attract the rich Spanish market. Not only do we have sun and sea and mountains: we have cultural monuments of the Spanish period - like Intramuros and Corregidor - in which the visiting Spaniard can take pride.

The Philippines also has many irreplaceable Spanish colonial documents that Spanish scholars visit to do research on. These documents are poorly stored in the national archives, and in danger of perishing. We need the Spanish expertise in archival preservation and digitization.

Moreover, we should continue translating Spanish writing to Filipino--and Filipino writing to Spanish--so that we may better appreciate each other's literature.

All this perfectly jibes with the growing heritage conservation underway as a result of the recent National Heritage Act, which I authored.

This brings me to the second area of cooperation, language and education.

Carrying on with the study of the Spanish language will further cement the historical and cultural bonds that unite the two countries. In a more practical sense, it will also provide more opportunities for work and social interaction.

At present, Spanish is the second most-studied language in the world, next to English. Spanish, as a language for international communication, occupies a decisive place and opens doors for future professionals. This explains why, in the last few years, the demand for Spanish courses in the Philippines has doubled.

This is shown by the increased number of students who enroll in the Spanish courses offered in Instituto Cervantes and in various Philippine universities. There is also high interest to obtain the DELE certificate (Diplomas de Español como Lengua Extranjera).

It is predicted that the number of enrollees for Spanish language courses will multiply by three in the coming years, as administrators of the Instituto Cervantes in Manila have affirmed.

Public secondary schools have begun offering Spanish language electives following the signing of a memorandum of agreement between the Department of Education and the University of Alcala to reintegrate Spanish language teaching in the high school curriculum.

The search for better opportunities in the labor market constitutes a principal motive given by students who are attracted to Spanish. But at the same time, to study the Spanish language is to acknowledge the linguistic and cultural bonds that we have in common with the Spanish people. It is a tie that goes beyond purely commercial reasons.

As late as the 1950s and the 1960s, many prominent Filipinos were beneficiaries of a Spanish education. Today the United States, United Kingdom and Japan have become the Philippines' main destinations for education and training. To strengthen relations, Spain must become more actively involved in educating Filipinos today, just as it did hundreds of years ago when they built the first schools in the country. This can be done through more academic exchanges and scholarships.

The two countries' relations have indeed come a long way since the very first Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day was celebrated in Baler in 2003.

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