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Deepening Philippines-S'pore ties
AS Asean reaches its 50th year with the Philippines as its sitting chairman, the relationship among its members has also kept pace. Singapore for instance will celebrate 50 years of full diplomatic relations with the Philippines in 2019.
"Philippines-Singapore ties are about to hit a milestone when we celebrate 50 years of formal diplomatic relations in 2019. Since that time, our relations have experienced some challenges from time to time, but not enough to disrupt what has obviously been a very productive and fruitful relationship," said Philippine Ambassador to Singapore Antonio Morales.
The Philippines wants to continue working with Singapore as an active partner in regional security and the fight against terrorism as well as in Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) operations.
Singapore has assisted, along with Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, in carrying out joint maritime patrols in the Sulu Sea since last year. In addition, the Republic has also stepped up monitoring and intelligence-sharing on specific individuals in the wake of insurgent activity in the southern Philippines.
"Over the past few years, whether it was during Typhoon Haiyan, or the current security situation in Marawi in Mindanao, Singapore has been a reliable partner on these fronts, and we hope that more cooperation of this kind will be grounded in a more formal manner," said Mr Morales.
With a significant Filipino presence in Singapore, the community also contributes much to the Republic.
"We hope that the contribution of our Filipino community in Singapore will continue to be recognised by the Singaporean government. It is important to point out that in their everyday work, the Filipino community plays a vital role in the development of the Singaporean economy, as well as our ambassadors to the people of Singapore," said Mr Morales.
Filipino workers in Singapore remitted some US$1.7 billion in 2016, making them the fourth-largest source of remittances globally and the highest in the region.
The two countries are also strategic and complementary partners in business. Singapore was the Philippines' fourth-largest trading partner last year, with total trade amounting to US$9.01 billion or 6.6 per cent of total trade.
"The Philippines looks forward to continued expansion of bilateral trade and investments from Singapore," he reiterated.
Among the many points of contact, the Philippine Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), through the Philippine Trade & Investment Centre in Singapore and its counterparts IE Singapore and the Philippines-Singapore Business Council - consisting of the Makati Business Club and the Singapore Business Federation - maintains the robust business ties between Singapore and the Philippines.
DTI Secretary Ramon Lopez and other senior economic officials regularly visit Singapore for meetings with companies and business groups.
From the Singapore side, several companies have established operations in the Philippines, entering various industries such as manufacturing, infrastructure, telecommunications and retail. Meanwhile, other Singapore firms continue to explore prospects not only in Manila but also in other key cities such as Cebu and Davao in Mindanao and in the Clark and Subic economic zones.
Mr Morales pointed out that while bilateral engagement is already strong, opportunities for further deepening the cooperation exist in many sectors. For example, the Philippines is now looking at many projects in terms of hard infrastructure development as it seeks to bring its economy up to speed.
Meanwhile, many Singapore and Singapore-based companies have also recognised the capabilities of Filipino talent and workers as the Philippines has an excellent track record and is recognised as among the top offshore destination for Business Process Outsourcing and other IT services.
"This can be facilitated through increased understanding of areas of complementation and cooperation, through increased exchange of missions by various business groups," said Mr Morales. "It is important also for Singapore companies to visit the Philippines, see for themselves and meet with companies," he added.
Inroads are also being made in previously less explored areas such as the southern Philippines.
On the recent troubles there, Mr Morales said: "Philippine security forces are on top of the situation and have continued to address the concerns of not only the business community, but the general populace as well. Even with the imposition of martial law in southern Philippines, the Philippine economy has continued to grow."
He pointed out that the Singapore Business Federation mission recently visited Davao in Mindanao. "They have seen for themselves that business is actually thriving and that the improvements in security are actually helping more businesses to grow," Mr Morales said.
Among other opportunities to explore are in the halal food market, where the Philippines is implementing a Halal Export Development Programme.
"We are interested in partnering with Singaporean traders and platforms to help us promote our products not only to Singapore but also to other markets like China and Japan," said Mr Morales, adding that the embassy has also been collaborating with My Outlets and the Singapore Malay Chamber of Commerce & Industry on halal products.
With around 160,00 to 180,000 Filipinos involved in various sectors of the Singapore economy, they are an integral part of the relationship between the two countries, Mr Morales said.
"Filipinos contribute to the enhancement of the culture and arts scene in Singapore by the presence of Filipino artists and their works in various cultural events and exhibitions," he noted.
Mr Morales suggested that the profile of Filipino workers in Singapore could be enhanced and include higher-skilled jobs, which Singapore will increasingly need to fill in future. "Our people are an important component of our relationship with Singapore," Mr Morales concluded.