FROM being an unknown destination, the Philippines is slowly becoming a favorite destination for the French. And part of the growing interest in the Philippines is a result of the efforts made by French Ambassador to the Philippines Gilles Garachon.
Tour of Duty
Serving in Manila since 2012, Garachon has almost 27 years experience in the diplomatic service, having started his career in this field in 1985. Garachon is no stranger to Asia as he was named first secretary at the French embassy in New Delhi in 1989 and later became the consul of France in Hong Kong in 1993.
He served as his country’s political counselor in Bangkok (1999–2003) and as cultural counselor in Jakarta (2003–2007). Before his present assignment, he headed the human resources department of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. While based here in Manila, Ambassador Garachon will concurrently serve as France’s non-resident ambassador to Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands. He succeeded former French envoy to the Philippines, Thierry Borja de Mozata.
Since taking the Philippine post, Garachon said French awareness of the Philippines has been increasing steadily because of aggressive cultural, political and academic exchanges between the two countries. “There is a momentum. And I think we have to keep this momentum. This is going to increase, I’m sure. There is plenty of room to increase the relations—of course—there is cultural relations, but also in the field of trade, in the field of politics, also the exchange of students between universities,” Garachon said in a newspaper interview during the French Embassy’s celebration of Bastille Day at his Makati City residence last July 14.
Embassy data showed French tourist arrivals in the Philippines increased by 14 percent from 29,591 in 2011 to 33,709 in 2012.
Garachon said promoting the Philippines in France was his “main difficulty” as an ambassador, as most French knew only nations that figured in their history.
“French people… see the geography very linked to history. And if a country has historical links with France, then it appears on the map. But for the Philippines, we never had any historical connection. Not at all. So for French people, the Philippines is just a question mark,” Garachon said.
“So part of my job and part of the job of the ambassador of the Philippines in Paris is to make French people discover more about the Philippines,” Garachon, who had been posted to Hong Kong, Jakarta and Bangkok before being assigned to Manila, said.
To boost its image in France the Philippines hosted a three-month exhibit of pre-colonial art at the Quai Branly Museum in Paris from April to July. “I think this exhibit is a great occasion. [All over] Paris, you had a signboard about this exhibit about the Philippines, with beautiful pictures,” Garachon said.
“People loved it and because they were discovering something completely new. In France, nobody knows about the art of the Philippines. And so they discovered it and they enjoyed it very much,” he said.
The exhibit brings together Philippine pre-colonial art and artifacts from collections in the Philippines, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria and the United States.
It is the largest exhibit of Philippine art in Europe, according to the French Embassy in Manila.
History of Relations
History tells us that the relations between the Philippines and France go beyond 60 years. A French consulate was established in Manila in the late 19th century, during the time when the Philippines was still a colony of Spain.
When the Spanish expedition under Ferdinand Magellan reached the Philippines, 15 Frenchmen were among its crew. This includes Jean Petit of Angers, lieutenant of Trinidad and Bernard Calmette, chaplain of San Antonio.
French missionaries also contributed to the spread of Christianity in the Philippines. The first Diocesan seminary in the Philippines, the seminary of St. Clement in Manila, was set up with the aid of French Monsignor Charles-Thomas Maillard de Tournon in 1704.
French traders, technicians, soldiers, and officers and crews under the Manila Galleon trade also came to the Philippines. The French recognized the potentials of the Philippines in the trading sector by the 17th century. France discovered the potential use of abaca in the manufacture of naval supplies, particularly ropes. Despite the Spanish colonial government’s restrictions against foreign trade, French and other foreign traders were already in Manila before it was formally opened for foreign trade.
France became the first country to establish a consul in Spanish Philippines, followed by Belgium, the United States and finally Great Britain in November 1844. France established its consul in Manila in March 1824.
Diplomatic relations between France and the Philippines was officially established on June 26, 1947 with the signing of the Treaty of Amity. The short-lived First Philippine Republic had a diplomatic representative in Paris in 1898 when the United States and Spain were negotiating the terms for peace in what has come down in history as the Treaty of Paris.
French travel accounts of the Philippines in the 18th and 19th centuries help Filipino historians recreate the past. These publications are illustrated with charming photographs and engravings that provide a visual link to the Spanish Philippines.
In a historic visit to the Philippines last October French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault met with President Benigno Aquino III and discussed ways to enhance the two countries’ political, economic and cultural relations.
Ayrault was accompanied by a 130-member delegation composed of ministers, parliamentarians and businessmen. The visit, founded on the theme, “Enhancing Philippine-French Relations Through Political, Economic and Cultural Cooperation” is intended to renew bilateral ties between the Philippines and France and propel the countries economic partnerships to greater heights.
According to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), bilateral trade between the the Philippines and France amounted to U$1.143 billion in 2011 as French investments in the Philippines reflected a “significant increase” with total approved investments of PhP1.145 billion, up 90 percent compared to 2010.
The DFA said that French companies such as LaFarge, Total, AXA and Alcatel “have strong presence in the country and have committed to increase their investments in the coming years.”
Leading French companies like RATP Dev and Thales have also expressed their interest to participate in the bidding for flagship projects under the country’s Public-Private Partnership (PPP) program.
The Philippines and France are expected to be sign contracts in various various sectors such as energy, aviation and aeronautics, transportation, infrastructures, electronics, healthcare and environment in the next few years.
France has been supportive of Aquino administration’s development priorities particularly in the areas of “climate change, green infrastructures, sustainable urban development and services including transport, water supply and sanitation, agro-forestry and biodiversity protection, and capacity building for local government units.”
Both countries also enjoy a strong people-to-people exchange as there are 50,000 Filipinos in France and about 4,000 French nationals living in the Philippines.
Most Filipinos in France are engaged in the services sector and skilled professionals. In 2011, Filipinos in France remitted a total of $51.3 million.
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