By Marilyn E. Galang
BALER, Aurora, June 30 (PNA) — The Philippines is now emerging as the “rising economic tiger of Asia” from being the “sick man of Asia,” Spanish Embassy Charge d’ Affaires Ignacio Perez Cambra said here on Monday.
Speaking during the 12th anniversary of Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day and the 115th anniversary of the “Siege of Baler,” Cambra, who is the deputy head of the Spanish Mission, noted that the country has been enjoying a steady growth for the last few years and thus, it is now “transitioning from being the sick man of Asia to being the rising tiger of Asia.”
“The future looks rosy and promising for the Philippines,” he said, adding that growth has been filtering to the countryside, particularly with the tourism boom.
He said Aurora has benefited from the tourism gains.
“Nobody should be surprised to see, in a few years’ time, flocks of tourists enjoying the beautiful landscape and the beach resorts here to the extent that someday, we might have trouble in booking rooms in Baler to celebrate the Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day,” he said.
Cambra said that over the last 12 months, the bilateral ties between the Philippine and Spanish governments and its people have become closer and stronger.
He mentioned that there has been a flow of high-level bilateral visits which the two nations have not had before.
He cited that Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez recently visited Madrid with “very positive results” while a few weeks earlier, Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia Margallo visited the Philippines in the company of a business delegation composed of top executives of large Spanish companies.
He said Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala also visited Madrid for a number of ventures.
Cambra said bilateral trade relation between the two countries continues to strengthen with the amount of exports and imports now exceeding $ 580 million, with exports from Spain to the Philippines growing at an average of 25 percent in the last four years.
He said, however, that while the Philippines’ economy is booming, it was unfortunate that it was struck with “terrible tragedies,” referring to the earthquake that struck Bohol and super typhoon Yolanda last year.
Cambra said the Spanish people felt the tragedies in a way reserved only to countries perceived as brothers such as the Latin American countries.
He said Spain reacted by pouring $ 28 million in humanitarian assistance, a including a medical team deployed in the Tacloban Regional Hospital during the first day the typhoon struck.
At the same time, Cambra said the Agencia Espanola para la Cooperacion Espanola or the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID) infused $ 334 million in development cooperation projects to the Philippines since 2000, mostly in grants.
He said it is only fair to acknowledge that among foreign bilateral or multilateral agencies in the Philippines, it is only AECID which has been working in the field of disaster risk reduction management which led to the successful evacuation of tens of thousands of people.
He assured that the fight against the devastating effects of natural disasters will continue in the coming years, citing that last March, Margallo and Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan signed a $ 68-million new country partnership framework agreement on good governance and disaster risk reduction.
Commenting on the celebration of Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day, Cambra said empathy and sympathy play an undeniable role and the occasion serves the purposes of reminding the two countries that their long friendship and brotherhood bring them together, both in times of joy and grief.
Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara, who, along with his father, former senator Edgardo, authored Republic Act 9187 declaring June 30 of every year as Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day, said the occasion is the country’s youngest holiday.
He said RA 9187 is the first legislation in the world where a colonized country recognizes the contribution of the colonizer.
He also said that Spain has been playing a significant role in the country’s progress, even in tourism.
Governor Gerardo Noveras, in his own speech, asked the Philippine and Spanish governments and Aurorans to continue nurturing their relationship.
Baler Mayor Nelianto Bihasa, for his part, said that the siege is a living testament to the fact that war atrocities could end up into a lasting friendship.
Bihasa called on everyone to join hands in valuing the historical past and continue efforts for a progressive Baler and Aurora whose leaders and people recognize the importance of “heritage and tourism as vital pillars of development, the exponent of unity at work, the handiwork of inclusive growth and the instruments of peace among peoples.”
The Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day gives due recognition of the day when then-President Emilio Aguinaldo acclaimed the gallantry and fidelity of the Spanish soldiers who besieged in the Baler Church in 1898.
This town was the site of the historic siege, the last and one of the most significant episodes of the Philippine war of independence against Spain.
On June 27, 1898, 54 Spanish soldiers led by Capt. Enrique delas Morenas, holed up at the Church of Baler in their last stand of the revolution.
They endured an 11-month siege, unaware that the war has long ended.
Only when Brig. Gen. Saturnino Martin Cerezo read inside the church the Spanish newspaper El Imparcial which announced that the war was over, did the Spaniards surrender.
Only 33 survivors emerged from the church on June 2, 1899. The sympathetic people of Baler, led by Teodorico Luna Novicio, gave them food, clothing and medicine.
President Emilio Aguinaldo also decreed that the Spanish soldiers be treated as friends, not prisoners and were granted safe-conduct passes to Spain. (PNA)