PH-Thailand relations in upswing, FilCom and locals excited to see Duterte

Bangkok, Thailand – President Rodrigo Duterte arrives in Bangkok on March 20, immediately after a two-day stay in neighboring Myanmar, to start the official engagement with the Prime Minister of Thailand Prayut Chan-o-cha on March 21, followed by a meeting with the Filipino community on March 22.

“This year, we shall be observing 68 years of the establishment of our diplomatic relations with the Kingdom of Thailand, at a time that the Philippines is hosting the chairmanship of ASEAN and also, at the same time, commemorating 50 years of the establishment of ASEAN,” said Ambassador to the Kingdom of Thailand Mary Jo Bernardo-Aragon in an interview.

More than 14,000 Filipinos, mostly professionals, are currently working in the Kingdom of Thailand. “Over half of this (number) are Filipino teachers in the English language and principally here in Bangkok,” Aragon said.

About 2,600 Filipinos of the 3,600 registered last year voted Duterte. The ambassador said that the Filipinos in Thailand are very supportive of the President’s anti-drug campaign.

More than 1,600 Filipinos have expressed interest by registering for the President’s meeting with the Filipino community on Wednesday evening.

‘Doing great’

“He is doing a great job,” said Julie Simeon Macariola, a Filipino high school teacher who came to the embassy to volunteer during the President’s visit, beamed with pride for the Philippine leader.

The popularity of the Philippine president, who turns 72 on March 28, has extended to the locals who consider him a new-found icon for his tough talk and leadership style. Aragon said that since the Philippine elections in 2016, the Thais have been very excited about President Duterte, and his forthcoming visit. The Thais speak positively of him, and were very touched when he came to pay respects for their beloved King in November 2016.

At least three bilateral agreements, namely on agriculture, tourism, and science & technology are expected to be signed between the two countries during President Duterte’s visit.

The close ties between the two countries were first established during the reign of the former King, the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej (1927-2016). Both countries were co-founders of the ASEAN, and the Philippines was able to formalize diplomatic relations with Thailand on June 14, 1949 in Washington DC.

“We have also established the mechanism of what we call the Joint Commission for Bilateral Cooperation. We are hoping that this year, we can resume the holding of the 6th Joint Commission for Bilateral Cooperation. This is where all areas of cooperation will be discussed by the two governments,” Aragon said.

The long history of relations between the Philippines and Thailand may be traced back to the early 1960s when a number of Thai nationals went to the Philippines to study in schools and universities.

Both countries have established areas of cooperation involving security, political, economic, trade, educational, and socio-cultural matters.

“We also cooperate very closely for instance, in the climate change discussions; in the management of disasters, for which the Philippines is always exposed to natural disasters,” Aragon said.

Enhancing intra-ASEAN

Aragon views the role of President Duterte as important in increasing intra-ASEAN relationship.

“We would like to have a peaceful resolution for disputes through a code of conduct,” Aragon said, when asked to comment on Duterte’s foreign policy with China. “We all would like to live in peace, because it is only through peace that we can benefit economically. We need peace and stability so we can economically move forward,” she added.

Part of the agenda of the President’s visit is a meeting also on March 22 with the Thai business representatives from the Thai Chamber of Industry, Thai Chamber of Commerce, and the banking sector to inform them about the Duterte administration’s plans and programs to address the economic interests of both countries and why the Philippines is a good place for investment.

In the Philippines, the major investments of Thailand include construction materials, agro-processing, and energy. ###PCO-Content