(The Philippine Star) | Updated October 17, 2017
There is a private corporation that quietly but efficiently promotes trade, investments, tourism and cultural relations between the Philippines and Taiwan, careful not to intrude into the political arena because of the Philippines’ One-China policy.
However, it does have a presence in Taiwan because there are 130,000 to 140,000 Filipino workers there, each of whom earns a minimum of P33,000 a month.
Angelito “Lito” Banayo, chair of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office in Taiwan, said the One-China policy “proscribes political as well as military agreements between the Philippines and China, but not economic or cultural.”
Thus, Taiwan and its closest southern neighbor, the Philippines, have eyed cooperation in the energy, agriculture and education sectors, among others, as well as people-to-people exchanges under Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy, which focuses on neighbors to its south, including the Philippines.
Banayo, in a lunch with some columnists at the Arroz Ecija at the Bonifacio Global City, added, “Even if we look back in history, our friendship (with Taiwan) goes back beyond just proximity and geography. We have been very close friends with Taiwan and this is again another affirmation of how close we are and how much closer we can be.”
The first biggest investors in Taipei were Filipino-Chinese businessmen like the late Tan Yu. Filipino businessmen also invested in Taipei’s first biggest hotels. They also donated the bullet-proof limousine, now displayed at a museum in Taipei, that Chiang Kai Shek once used as his official car.
Banayo spearheads investment missions to Taipei as he feels the promotion of increased trade between Taiwan and the Philippines is his prime responsibility.
Banayo said what the Philippines has going for it is the industrial peace the country has been enjoying for many years now, and the cheaper labor costs compared to China. Yes, you read that right, China’s labor costs are not as competitive as they used to be.
Recently, he told some businessmen at the Taiwan-Philippines Industrial Collaboration Summit at The Peninsula Manila an anecdote about the atis and Taiwan’s shi-jia, which are basically the same fruit except the latter has less seeds, is sweeter and creamier:
“We are so geographically close to Taiwan, such that in Batanes and in parts of Northern Cagayan, the radio frequencies emit Taiwanese news and songs. But our atis and Taiwan’s shi-jia are so dissimilar. Why?
“The answer is technology. Another answer is hard work. And patience or perseverance. These three characteristics that produce the sweet and big shi-jia are also the characteristics that have made Taiwan the economic success that we have seen in the last four decades.
“The story of the Philippines’ atis, sadly, seems to be the story of why up to now, our economy still has to really take off. But our economy has been gathering strength in the last few years. We are finally growing impressively and steadily as seen in our increasing GDP numbers.
“And more importantly, we have friends who sincerely want to partner with us in our efforts to develop our economy further and make it more inclusive. Partner with us in focusing on small and medium enterprises, whether it is a shi-jia farm or a manufacturing outfit.
“But we need, to paraphrase a Beatles song — ‘a little help from our friends.’
“And as you will see as you interact with them, the Taiwanese are among the friendliest of our friends.”
Taiwan is also seen to benefit further from its no-visa policy for Philippine nationals. Banayo, who didn’t take the credit for this welcome development, said that compared to January to June 2016, there already has been a 74-percent increase in tourist arrivals from the Philippines in January to June this year.
“I guess more and more people are discovering Taiwan,” he noted.
I’ve been to Taiwan and I find that it has a varied smorgasbord of dining and shopping choices — from Din Tai Fung to really good Peking Duck, from outlet stores with Italian labels to night markets. A friend also swears by its fabric and purchased in Taipei the material for the gown she wore to her son’s wedding!
MECO also supports Ugnayan Taiwan under Maryknoll priest Father Joy Tajonera. Ugnayan Taiwan is a haven for OFWs, assisting them when they have labor problems, and providing skills training for them.
Fortunately, according to Banayo, Filipino workers in Taiwan rarely run into problems.
“Taiwanese are considerate employers. As long as you have a national ID, you have medical benefits. Lab tests are free. Maintenance medicines are free. Wages are good.”
President Duterte enjoys overwhelming support from Filipinos in Taiwan and most Taiwanese.
“Like most Asians, the Taiwanese like strong leadership, getting things done fast.”
Banayo worked in Duterte’s presidential campaign and when asked what position he wanted, he requested for a quiet post like MECO.
Banayo, whose middle name is Tan, doesn’t take credit, too, for the efficiency and accomplishments of MECO, saying he has had very good and professional predecessors, like businessman Tom Alcantara. He sees himself as a steward of the gains MECO has already achieved, and as an instrument of further gains.
He admires President Duterte for allowing the economy to be managed by professionals.
And he appreciates his post for allowing him to contribute further to the growth of the economy, “with a little help from our friends.” Like Taiwan.