Just to illustrate how close Taiwan is as our neighbor to the north, residents of Batanes, our northernmost province, can receive radio broadcasts from the island at any time of the day.
But as far as Lito Banayo is concerned, the relationship should go way beyond the geographical. Banayo heads the Manila Economic and Cultural Office, and while a lot of Meco’s concerns center on looking after Filipinos living and working in or just visiting Taiwan, his vision encompasses establishing a stronger and more rewarding relationship between the Philippines and Taiwan.
At a recent lunch, Banayo outlined his plans for his term as Meco chair. Among these plans is building on Taiwan’s strengths in agribusiness, including bringing in Taiwanese agriculturists and farmers for some “technology sharing” with Filipino farmers. Any visitor to Taiwan cannot but be impressed with the quality and quantity of its produce, from vegetables to fruits and even livestock and seafood. This is because, said Banayo, after widespread land reform granted Taiwanese farmers ownership of farm land, “the government did not just abandon them to their own devices.” Instead, farmers were provided training in the latest agricultural developments, access to credit and supplies, and support in transporting and marketing their products. In short, everything that people, especially government officials, have been saying Filipino farmers need but never got around to seriously providing.
“This is something our Taiwanese friends can teach us,” said Banayo, envisioning a touring seminar and training program among the different state-run universities and colleges here, with Taiwanese resource persons.
Last Sept. 29, speaking at the opening of the “Taiwan Expo,” Banayo remarked on the growing presence of Taiwanese investors in the country, as exemplified by almost 200 participants in the Expo who have brought in “so many thousands” of Taiwanese products to the Philippines.
Through the years, Taiwan has established itself as a manufacturing center for high-quality consumer goods, especially electronics. Moving on from their reputation as makers of shoddy “Mickey Mouse” products in the 1960s and early 1970s, Taiwan businesses invested in research and development—and soon came out with personal computers, cell phones and other electronics that have established an enviable name in the world market. As Banayo said at the Taiwan Expo opening, “Taiwan Excellence [is now accepted] worldwide.”
In his address before a related event to the Expo, the Philippine-Taiwan Industrial Summit, Banayo seized upon an example to illustrate the differences between the quality of “goods” produced in both territories.
The Meco chair used two fruits—our native atis or sugar apple, and the Taiwanese shir jia, grown mostly in the southern area of the island. The atis, said Banayo, is getting increasingly rare here, “getting smaller and smaller, with so many seeds it has become a burden to partake of its sweet and creamy flesh.”
The shir jia, by contrast, “is not only sweet and creamy, it has few seeds, which makes it easy to eat and a delight to share.” Easy to share, said Banayo, because it is huge, “about the size of a baby’s head,” such that the Taiwanese have dubbed it “Buddha’s head.”
Banayo said he has visited farms where this remarkable fruit is grown, and they are hardly plantation-size. Instead, these farms are mostly small, family-run enterprises that have banded together to cooperatively market their produce not just in Taiwan but even to Hong Kong, China and Japan.
How did the Taiwanese develop and market the shir jia while we are stuck with the puny atis? “The answer is technology, hard work, and patience or perseverance,” said Banayo. Or to borrow from the campaign slogan of former senator Manuel Villar, “technology plus sipag at tiyaga.”
Banayo said he is hoping for a more fruitful “people-to-people” partnership between Taiwan and the Philippines, one where lessons are learned and applied for the mutual benefit of Filipinos and the Taiwanese who are, after all, our closest neighbors.