Interview-Philippine ambassador: Korea on right track to unification

The Philippines provided great assistance to Korea during the Korean War six decades ago. Beginning in 1950, the Philippines dispatched five battalions of 7,420 soldiers for five years to assist in future restoration, as a member of the UN Commission for the Unification and Rehabilitation of Korea. 

Philippine Ambassador to Korea Luis T. Cruz said in an interview that he hoped that the Korean government and people should focus on efforts to achieve unification and even discuss post-reunification activities, even if it is only a remote possibility. 

Speaking of President Park Geun-hye’s trust-building process, he said he believes that “the Korean government is on the right track.”

Cruz also talked about Korea becoming an ethnically diverse multicultural society, saying “to promote your exports, you have to be a globalized society, and develop into a multicultural society.”

Cruz was interviewed at the Philippine embassy in Yongsan, Seoul, recently.

Q: The Philippines is an allied nation that dispatched soldiers during the Korean War for the first time in Asia. It also played a leading role in getting the UN Forces to participate in the Korean War. Mr. Ambassador, can you describe the role of the Philippines during the war?

A: While the war ended with the signing of the armistice in 1953, we sent troops here over a five-year period, from 1950 to 1955.

So the 7,420 soldiers that we sent here, they were divided into one-year period each. In effect, we sent five battalions, approximately 1,300 soldiers per battalion. So each battalion stayed here for one year from 1950 to 1955.

Q: The Philippines has provided a lot of aid for Korea’s economic growth after the war. Can you please tell us about the Philippines’ economic support for Korea?

A: I'll have to start with the United Nations resolution that created a seven-man UN Commission for the Unification and Rehabilitation of Korea committee, which the Philippines was involved in. This committee was to undertake the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Korea while the war was going on. 

That resolution was enacted in 1950, October of 1950, meaning just three months after the outbreak of the Korean War. 

In the minds of our leaders in participating in the UN deliberation, they believed that the war really is not an option, but the world community should start considering the rehabilitation of the Korean Peninsula.

Now, being a member, aside from the actual task of overseeing the reconstruction and rehabilitation, we also donated USD 2 million to the UN so that it could be used in the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the Korean Peninsula.

That is also the reason that even after the signing of the armistice in 1953, our soldiers were still here in Korea as they were part of the contingent that undertook the reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts after the war.

Q: Can you tell us a little about the film Forgotten War, which was released to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Korea-Philippines Amity?

A: The embassy thought of coming up with this full-length film about the Philippines’ participation in the Korean War.

First, we believed that this was a fitting way to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the opening of the diplomatic relations between the Philippines and Korea, which was in 2009.

Basically, the two-hour film is divided into four episodes. The first episode of the film was based on interviews of the surviving Filipino veterans of the war. Now, the first episode is about the defense of Yultong (Battle of Yultong), which was very close to the boundary of the Demilitarized Zone.

Now, the reason that the Filipinos were there is because of the oncoming assault of the Chinese, who joined the Korean War at that time. And there was an order for the United Nations command to retreat.

In order to make it an orderly retreat, the Filipino soldiers were asked to hold on to that fort, Yultong. Unfortunately, that's where we experienced a lot of death of the Filipino soldiers. 

The second episode is, I would say, a more successful one, because this is the assault on Hill Eerie. Again, that is close to the boundary and it is now on the other side of [the DMZ in] North Korea. Hill Eerie, at that time, was a fort held by the Chinese. 

The Philippines sent about 44 soldiers to retake Hill Eerie from the Chinese. The assault was led by former President Fidel Ramos, then second lieutenant, at that time. 

He was so successful that not only were they able to retake Hill Eerie, but nobody died from his 44-men team. 

Q: Can you share your thoughts on what we must do to prevent the Korean War from being forgotten?

A: Well, I would say that your government, several institutions, and NGOs are doing quite well in reminding the Korean people, especially the young generation, that the Korean War should always be foremost in their minds, because it is a very traumatic experience to go through this war, no matter whether it's a civil war or an assault from a neighboring country.

So, anniversaries like the 60th commemoration of the signing of the armistice, these are very nice gestures from the part of the Korean government to remind the Korean people of what your forefathers went through so that the young generation of Koreans can enjoy fully, the freedom and democracy that is prevalent now in Korean society.

Q: You have been working as the Philippine ambassador to Korea for six years. Can you please tell us about your primary focus in Korea?

A: This is true for all Philippine diplomats: our primary objective is to raise the level of our relations, our friendship with the host government. But in particular, our mission really is threefold.

First, to maintain harmonious relations with the host government.

Secondly, we are also tasked to promote economic relations through trade and investment, and also, people-to-people contact through cultural exchanges, educational exchanges, and of course, tourism.

And then, finally, our third pillar of assignment in posts abroad is to protect the interests and the welfare of Filipino nationals who are in that particular country.

In the case of Korea, we have about 45,000 Filipinos who are living and working here, no matter whether they are Employment Permit System (EPS) workers, engineers, professionals, or Filipinos who are married to Koreans. 
Philippine Ambassador to Korea Luis T. Cruz says Korea is right on track for unification, speaking of Korean President Park Geun-hye’s Korean Peninsula trust-building process.

Q: Every year, one million Korean tourists visit the Philippines. What would you say the biggest attractions of Philippines’ tourism are? Also, please tell us about some of the work you do in Korea to promote tourism in the Philippines.

A: By survey or trend, there are places most visited by Koreans in the Philippines, especially the resorts in Boracay and Cebu.

But I would say that the major attractions for Koreans who are going to the Philippines are the Filipinos themselves. And, you know, our tourism advertisement catch phrase is "It's more fun in the Philippines." And I would say that this is really true.

Because you experience fun, not only by visiting resorts or various tourist spots, but because your visit is made more memorable by the Filipinos who assist you or who bring you around.

Or for Koreans going there to learn English, their Filipino teachers guide them and help them to be more proficient in their learning of the English language.

So, I would say that the primary motivation, or the one that we really promote when it comes to tourism, is this trait of the Filipinos, of being friendly and accommodating to visitors.

Q: As you said before, there are a lot of Filipinos living in Korea and these people make up a significant portion of Korea’s multicultural society. Can you please tell us about your effort to help these Filipinos settle and live in harmony in Korean society?

A: The majority of Filipinos who are here are factory workers under the employment permit system. Of the 45,000, half of them are factory workers.

But the second biggest group is those who are married to Koreans. And then, we have students and professionals and so on.

Now, our basic strategy when we reach out to the Filipinos is, of course, that we tell them that since we are in a foreign land, in this case Korea, we always remind them to respect the laws of Korea,

because Korea has been a very grateful country to us, I guess, because of the fact that we have helped Korea during the Korean War.

This way, Koreans are looking kindly at the Philippines, including the reception that they are giving to Filipinos here.

Now, at the same time, we help the Filipinos integrate themselves fully with Korean society. Primarily, we tell them to organize themselves so that they can form a support system.

Secondly, we meet with them, with individual organizations. Usually, they come up with various activities. They participate in the local programs being organized by the local government or NGOs or church groups. Or they come up with their social or sports activities and so on.

Especially during the month of June when we celebrate Filipino Migrants’ Day and the National Day of the Philippines, we come up with a big event for all of the Filipino community groups. Last month, we held this in Incheon, at the Samsan World Stadium.

And Incheon City was gracious enough to let us use the Samsan Gymnasium for free, and it was very successful.

It was participated not only by Filipinos but their Korean friends. This year, we were able to show how friendly the Filipinos are and how cheerful they are with the presentations that they have made.

So, in effect, I would say that the Filipino community here in Korea is one of the more active -- if not the most active -- foreign community groups here in Korea, and it is because of this network system that we have formed.

And through them, we always remind them to contribute to the promotion of multiculturalism here in Korea.

Q: Can you give us some advice for Korea to become a more harmonious multicultural society?

A: If you look back at your history, Korea has always been a homogeneous society, meaning your people have very few exposures to foreigners. 

You had very unpleasant experiences with foreigners in the past; various nationalities have tried to colonize Korea. That's why over the years, you tried to be homogeneous as possible.

But we have to realize the new realities now. We live in a globalized society. For Korea, your economic goal is to promote your exports.

So of course, to promote your exports, you have to be a globalized society. So necessarily, you also have to develop into a multicultural society.

And if I may say so, over the five years that I've been here, I noticed big support that Korean society is getting from your government, when it comes to promotion of multiculturalismbecause, let's face it, many of these foreigners come here to live and to work and to contribute economically to Korea.

And in that sense, you can consider them as assets, even children of multicultural families.

There is an urgent need to take care of them, because eventually when they grow up, they will also be contributing economically to Korean society.

Not only that, but also socially, culturally. This reminds me of the most popular Korean song, popularized by Psy -- "Gangnam Style.”

We know for a fact that there is Little Psy. That boy is a product of a multicultural family. The mother, I understand, is Vietnamese. So as you can see, even as a kid, they are already contributing to the promotion of Korean culture to other countries.

I really believe that the initiative of the Korean government to promote multiculturalism should be supported fully by the Korean people themselves.

Q: Lastly, Korea is celebrating 60 years of ceasefire. Is there anything you would like to say to the Korean people?

A: Of course, primarily, I would like to congratulate the Korean government and people themselves for being able to maintain peace and harmony on the Korean Peninsula. 

Although, technically speaking, the Korean Peninsula is still in a state of war because what was signed 60 years ago, was a truce agreement, not yet a peace agreement.

But secondly, my wish is for the Korean government and people to already focus on reunification. Because this is unavoidable, and I believe that while you still have the luxury of time, you should consider focusing on efforts for reunification, and even discuss post-reunification activities.

That is why I was happy to know recently that North and South Korean officials are already discussing about the reopening of Kaesong (Gaeseong) Industrial Complex,

because while both sides have experienced difficulties, in the operation of Gaeseong. I believe that this is a template for the future, because if you consider most unification scenarios here in Korea, I believe that the way to go is this type of cooperation, what is being shown in Gaeseong.

The capital, equipment, technology, know-how, and skills are being provided by South Koreans and the site and labor is being provided by the North Koreans.

Over the last few years of its operation, it has been going on very well, contributing to the economy of those at work in Gaeseong.

I believe that this is one template you should pursue. I'm also glad that the major policy of President Park Geun-hye, when it comes to unification, is “Trustpolitik” because this is really the basis for a long-lasting relationship with your brothers and sisters in North Korea.

So I wish that the Korean people could explore other types of template like Kaesong Industrial Complex, that you could already initiate.

While we are not yet at that point where we'll be implementing already or signing this peace agreement, I’m happy that the Korean government is on the right track.

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