Interview with H. E. Mary Jo A. Bernardo-Aragon, Philippine Ambassador to The Kingdom of Thailand

Event Media Interview

Q: As the Kingdom of Thailand and the Philippines celebrate this year’s 70th Anniversary since its diplomatic relation was established, how would you describe the relationship so far in terms of its current bilateral cooperations, trade and investments, and people-to-people exchanges? 

AMBASSADOR BERNARDO-ARAGON: Well, first of all, thank you for this opportunity to speak before you and for this interview.

Yes, this year we are celebrating our 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Kingdom of Thailand and the Philippines, when the Treaty of Friendship was signed in Washington D.C. on 14 June 1949.

It was between our former Philippine Ambassador Joaquin Elizalde and His Royal Highness Prince Wan. Since then, we have enjoyed warm and cordial friendly relations between our two countries and our two peoples.

Indeed, our bilateral relations have been characterized by several high-level visits and even royal visits.

In 1963, we fondly recall the state visit of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great and Her Majesty Queen Sirikit the Queen Mother which paved the way for many of the Thai nationals to study in different universities in the Philippines.

And we believe that what they have learned from us especially in the agricultural sector has helped their development of the kingdom, especially agriculture which was very close to the heart of the — of King Rama IX.

So and also recently, we were deeply honored by the visit of Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn early this month, on June 3 and 4. She brought with her 80 military cadets to visit some sites in Cebu. This was the Magellan Cross as well as the Basilica of Sto. Niño. And also to visit two schools in Antipolo where she has her royal projects and two schools — yes, two schools in Antipolo.

So of course, we’ve also had visits by high-ranking officials, the Prime Minister — Prime Minister Prayut visited the Philippines in August 2015 and of course he again visited the country during our chairmanship in 2017.

And in 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte in — paid his respects to His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej when he passed away on October 13, 2016.

This gesture of the President was deeply touched by the — by many of the — by the Thais here. The expressions of condolence by the President to the royal family, to the government, and people of Thailand.

It was during his 70 year of reign that ASEAN was established here and we were also one of the original signatories of the Bangkok Declaration that established ASEAN.

So our relations have been very warm and close. Also, our trade relations, our trade has been increasing. And last year, it has reached the level of over 10 billion US dollars. And we are happy to host several top Thai companies in the Philippines and there are also several Philippine companies that are based here in Thailand.

I think one of our — one of the first members of ASEAN countries that we established diplomatic relations, I believe it’s with Thailand.

Q: On people-to-people exchanges, what professions do Filipinos occupy and how are the working conditions in Thailand? 

AMBASSADOR BERNARDO-ARAGON: The Filipinos here in Thailand are highly considered by the Thai people — they are considered as highly skilled. There are many here who are teachers in English and many are in the professional level. They are employed in international organizations, in hotels in different foreign companies.

There are also those who are employed in the entertainment industry like in Phuket and in Pattaya, in some of the hotels as we Filipinos are known for our talent in singing and in playing instruments.

So in general, I believe our people here are warmly received by the host country, by the people of Thailand.

Q: What are the updates on the three agreements signed during President Duterte’s last visit in Thailand in March 2017?

AMBASSADOR BERNARDO-ARAGON: Yes, President Rodrigo Duterte made his official visit here on March 21-22, 2017 during which three agreements were signed. One was on implementing arrangements and in our cooperation on tourism.

And here, this is a five-year program wherein they have established an academic exchange program wherein in 2018, the Department of Tourism hosted delegations from Thailand to have some cultural exchanges, to have some exchanges as well on tourism, developments.

And this year, as a matter of the fact, only last — last month, the Thai Ministry of Tourism and Sports hosted a delegation from the Philippines again within this program of, you know, providing cultural exchange, tourism, developments here in Thailand.

Especially, I believe that both countries are very much into agro-tourism now. We know that Secretary Berna is promoting agro-tourism in the Philippines. And here in Thailand, I think this is also something that where we can learn a lot from them.

And the second — the second agreement that was signed in 2017 was on the Cooperation on Science and Technology between the DOST and the Ministry of Science and Technology here.

And they have had two meetings since then wherein they identified specific areas of cooperation. I understand there are some on innovation, agriculture, nanotechnology and…

Well, as you know, we are all moving forward towards this 4.0 level development and so the two sides are continuing to talk and discuss further cooperation in this area.

The other one is on agriculture. This is an agreement between the Philippine Carabao Center in Nueva Ecija as well as the Department of Livestock of the Ministry of Agriculture.

And here again, there are exchanges of meetings. Two meetings were hosted actually by the Philippine Carabao Center in 2017 and 2018. And now they have followed this through study visits.

I believe last year — I believe… No, this year I believe the Philippine — the delegation from the Philippine Carabao Center came here for a study visit on a dairy farm. And I believe there will be a reciprocal visit by the Department of Livestock Development of the Ministry of Agriculture to the Philippines some time this year.

So they — so these three agreements that were signed during the visit of President Duterte are moving forward. There are continuous exchanges between the concerned agencies on how to further improve our cooperation between the two countries.

Q: With President Duterte’s upcoming participation to the 34th ASEAN Summit, what do you think could the Filipino people gain from this?

AMBASSADOR BERNARDO-ARAGON: Yes, this year’s theme of Thailand’s chairmanship of ASEAN is Advancing Partnership which they took on from our — our theme in 2017. So Advancing Partnership Towards Sustainability.

Of course, sustainability is extremely important for the ASEAN community wherein we would like to be — to have a continuing participation or opportunity for us to push for our — the Philippine advocacies which we have put forward during our chairmanship.

So our participation in all ASEAN summits, especially at the level of the summit — the leaders’ summit is an extremely important opportunity for us to be part of developing an ASEAN community that is people-oriented, people-centered, that will uplift the lives, the livelihood of all the people in the region and wherein no one is left behind. And of course, what is important here is to be able to sustain the economic and social development of our people.

And of course this is where we Filipinos will also benefit because as a community, we do have our interest in ensuring that the interest of our people are also taken into account when we — as we progress with the development of an ASEAN community. Because in an ASEAN community, we envision that there will be movement of people, people will work in different ASEAN countries.

So here, we are very strong with the — and especially the President is very strong in protecting the welfare and interest of our Filipino migrant workers not only here in the ASEAN region, but in wherever the Filipinos — wherever we can find Filipinos employed in different countries.

So this is — this is a key element and a key pillar, as a matter of fact, of our Philippine foreign policy.

Q: What do you think could the President put forward during the Summit that would serve as key priority areas of the Philippines?

AMBASSADOR BERNARDO-ARAGON: Well on that note, I believe that you know we will… This is an opportunity for us to follow through with the advocacies that we have enumerated in our chairmanship of ASEAN during in 19 — in 2017.

And of course, key here… One of those priorities in 2017 was the — our advocacy in protecting the welfare and interest of migrant workers in the ASEAN community.

So of course this will be to our interest that we follow through with that and fully implemented within the ASEAN — within the ASEAN region.

Q: The President is set to deliver his fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA) in July 2019, how do you perceive his leadership so far?

AMBASSADOR BERNARDO-ARAGON: Well, I believe that the President has delivered many of his promises. He — our economy is doing well. In the past three years from 2016 to 2018, our economic growth rate has been over six percent. Our economy is one of the fastest growing economies in the region, and he — the President has put in place many of the pro-poor program.

Indeed, this year, we — the Magna Carta for the Poor was signed by — was passed and signed by the President which gives — which recognizes the rights of the poor to food, to education, health among others.

And indeed, we now have free tuition fee for tertiary education in our state universities, we have universal healthcare, among others.

So we would like to wish the President all success in his future endeavors in the remaining three years of his presidency.

Of course, one of his — one of his advocacy is also the concerns that he has for our overseas workers. And — and we continue to — to be in touch with our overseas workers here to ensure — to help them in their times of need and to make sure that, you know, their rights are also protected here.

So — and this is one of the important things that we need to push through in our — in our ASEAN meetings, the protection of our migrant workers in our region.

Q: What is your message to the Filipinos working/residing in Thailand?

AMBASSADOR BERNARDO-ARAGON: Sa akin pong mga kababayan dito sa Kaharian ng Thailand, unang-una sa lahat, ako po ay taos-pusong nagpapasalamat sa inyong lahat, sa inyong patuloy na pagtangkilik sa programa ng pamahalaan ni Pangulong Rodrigo Duterte — Rodrigo Roa Duterte sa pamamagitan ng Pasuguan ng Pilipinas dito sa Thailand.

At nagpapasalamat din po kami sa inyong mga contributions dito sa Kaharian ng Thailand. Ang inyong gawain at ang inyong pagtulong sa ating mga kapwa tao.

Kami po ay nananawagan sa inyo na ipagpatuloy po ninyo ang inyong mga magandang layunin dito sa Thailand, ang inyong mga pagsisikap. At kami rin po rito sa Pasuguan ng Pilipinas sa Thailand ay handang tumulong sa abot po ng aming makakaya sa inyong lahat.

Tayo po ay sama-samang magtulungan para sa ikauunlad, hindi lamang po ng ating mga kababayan dito sa Kaharian ng Thailand, kung hindi lalong-lalo na sa ating mga kababayan sa ating bansang Pilipinas.

Salamat po sa inyong lahat.

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SOURCE: PCOO-PND (Presidential News Desk)