JULIO Camarena-Villaseñor spent the last 30 years of his life in public service.
A native of Mexico City, he began a distinguished career as an advisor on international affairs to Mexico’s Secretary of Finance, Jesus Silva-Herzog. A former Lawrence University government major—he graduated magna cum laude in 1981—Camarena-Villaseñor is the current Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Mexico to the Republic of the Philippines, the Republic of Palau, the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia. Camarena-Villasenor was named to the ambassador post by President Enrique Peña Nieto after serving the past six years as Under-Secretary of Foreign Affairs for Management in the government’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs where he oversaw 149 offices worldwide, including 75 embassies, 66 consulates and five missions to international organizations as well as a staff of 7,000.
Camarena-Villaseñor also held various leadership posts in the United Nations from 1986-2006, including director of the division of planning and human resources management for the Food and Agriculture Organization in Vienna, Austria, and chief of inter-agency policy and the common system in the Department of Management for the United Nations Secretariat in New York City.
Almost in an unsuspected way, Mexico and the Philippines share a myriad of traditions and customs derived from historical ties established more than 400 years ago.
Our common history dates back to the time when both the Philippines and Mexico were under the Spanish Crown. Hernan Cortes conquered the Aztec Empire in 1521, the same year Ferdinand Magellan discovered and claimed for the Spanish Crown the islands which were baptized by the explorer Ruy Lopez de Villalobos as “Philippines”, in honor of Prince Philip of Spain.
Ruy Lopez set sail from Barra de Navidad, Jalisco, Mexico to make the first exploratory travel to these Islands, journey that was totally financed with Mexican money, as the Legazpi exploration.
In 1565, Governor General Miguel Lopez de Legazpi claimed the Philippines as a Spanish Colony and designated Manila as the capital in 1571. Due to its distance from Spain, the Spanish Government assigned Manila’s administration and government to Virreinato de la Nueva España, name of Mexico in colonial times, for two and a half centuries.
For that reason, many of the Philippine Governors were native Mexicans and the army was recruited among the Nueva España population, which resulted in a mix between Mexicans and Filipinos, not only in race, but more importantly in culture. Mexico administered the Philippines up until 1815, when the insurgent movement begun and Spain had to take direct control of the islands.
Evangelization and commercialization constituted the core of intercontinental ties between Asia and America that materialized with the Manila-Acapulco Galleon. Trade between Canton and Acapulco took place through Manila, where the Chinese junks unloaded silks and porcelains to be loaded in the Nao and sent to Spain trough Nueva España, in exchange for Mexican silver. That exchange of goods became also an exchange of ideas and customs.
The “China galleons” greatly stimulated spatial interactions between Acapulco and Manila, 15,000 km away. Many Mexicans settled in Manila and scores of Nahuatl words entered Tagalog, the main Filipino language. These included atole, avocado, balsa, cacao, calabaza, camote, chico, chocolate, coyote, nana(y), tata(y), tocayo and zapote.
As well as vocabulary, some aspects of Mexican cuisine, customs and dress were also introduced to the Philippines, along with a variety of plants and flowers. In addition, the Filipino currency has the same name as Mexico’s: the peso.
Meanwhile, Filipinos settling in Mexico introduced mangoes and a game called “cara y cruz” (heads and tails). The settlers were known locally as “Chinese Indians” and brought their expertise in the cultivation and use of palm trees with them.
In Tagalog, palm fronds are known as “palapa” and by the end of the 18th century, this name was in use, too, for the palm-roofed shelters which remain a distinctive style of architecture along Mexico’s coasts. The coconut palm’s sap is known locally as tuba. Filipino newcomers fermented the resulting coconut wine into a potent drink. Henry Bruman, a University of California geographer, documented how Filipino seamen on the Manila Galleon also introduced simple stills, for making coconut brandy, to western Mexico during the late 16th century. These techniques were quickly adopted by Mexicans who were then able to turn the hearts of their native agave plants into tequila.
After the colonial period, the first official contacts of Independent Mexico with the Philippines were established in 1842, when a Mexican Representation was opened in Manila. However, the most recent reference to a Mexican Diplomat in the Philippines appeared with the designation of Evaristo Butler Hernandez as Consul of Mexico in the Philippines in 1878.
In 1935, Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Emilio Portes Gil, appointed pilot and painter Alfredo Carmelo y de las Casas as Honorary Consul of Mexico in the Philippines, position that he held until 1945.
During Second World War, another notable Mexican event in the Philippines was the presence of Squadron 201. Mexico participated in the Pacific war against the Japanese with a contingent of the Mexican Air Force, which arrived in Manila on April 30, 1945, under the command of Colonel Antonio Cardenas Rodriguez.
The Independence of the Philippines brought forth a new era of relations between these countries. Mexico dispatched an envoy to participate in the festivities to celebrate the birth of the Southeast Asian nation. Diplomatic ties between both countries were formalized on April 14 of 1953 and it was only on September 17 of the same year when the first Diplomatic Mission of Mexico in Manila opened its doors with Carlos Gutierrez Macias as Minister Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary. On July 25, 1961, the Mission became an Embassy.
During the presidency of Diosdado Macapagal, Mexican President Adolfo Lopez Mateos made a State Visit to the Philippines from October 20th to 23rd of 1962 in response to the visit of Macapagal in 1960, who was Vice President at the time. 1964 was decreed the “Year of Philippine-Mexican Friendship” to celebrate the Fourth Centennial of the Expedition of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi.
Mexico was the first Latin American country that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo visited as President of the Philippines on November 21st of 2001, when she attended the international conference of Christian Democratic Parties, also attended by Mexican President Vicente Fox. In October of 2002, she visited Mexican soil again to participate in the 10th APEC Leaders Meeting in La Paz, Baja California.
As a result of the collaboration/working relationship and affinity between our nations, Mexico and the Philippines today enjoy a strong economic partnership, with enormous potential for growth. Mexico is the Philippines’ third largest importer in the Americas, after the United States and Canada, and is the seventh largest exporter to the Philippines, exporting products such as manufactured goods, chemicals and sugar.
To date, Mexico and the Philippines have signed some 21 bilateral agreements including the following: Bilateral Agreement on Air Transport, signed in Washington in 1952; Cultural Agreement, signed in Mexico in 1969; Agreement on Technical-Scientific Cooperation for Agriculture, signed in 1994; Agreement on Cooperation for Tourism, signed in 1995; Agreement on the Suppression of Non Ordinary Visas, signed in Mexico in 1997; Agreement on the Cooperation for the Fight against Illegal Trafficking and Abuse of Drugs signed in 1997; Memorandum of Agreement for Academic Cooperation between the Department of Foreign Affairs of Mexico and the Philippines, signed in 1997.
During a state visit to Mexico in 2012, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto del Rosario, representing the Philippine government, signed two bilateral agreements with Mexico. These include the establishment of a Joint Bilateral Consultation Meeting and providing for an exchange of information, training modules and scholars for diplomatic training.
In addition, we must also not overlook the importance of bilateral investment that exists between our nations. For example, the International Container Terminal Services, Inc. (ICTSI), the leading port operator in the Philippines, has significantly invested in the Port of Manzanillo in Colima. Conversely, Mexican companies, such as CEMEX and FEMSA, have a major presence here in the Philippines. Today, our business relationship can — and must — grow, especially given that our two countries are part of the dynamic and increasingly competitive Pacific Basin.
Furthermore, it is worth mentioning that the Philippines will host the APEC summit in 2015. This conference will be an additional opportunity to propose and discuss strategies aimed at forging closer ties between our countries. The overriding objective of the summit is to better coordinate policies in order to face, as partners, the challenges and opportunities that arise in the international economic arena. In addition, the Philippine government also has plans to open the National Galleon Museum and Research Center in 2015, making the forum a very symbolic occasion to renew and strengthen our ties, as well as adopt new agreements.
The historic commercial and cultural links between the two countries bode well for the future of Mexican and Filipino relations, a renewed, dynamic partnership marked by its strength and intercontinental importance. In the short term, I will work with my counterpart here in the Philippines so that our respective countries serve as a bridge between Asia and Latin America.