Living and believing in the Philippines

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‘WHICH of the countries can boast of embracing the world so fully, with its body in Asia, its spirit in North America and its soul in Latin Europe?”

This was how Frenchman Hubert d’Aboville described the Philippines in the book he published in 1998, titled Stones of Faith—which was requested by then-French Ambassador to the Philippines Samuel le Caruyer de Beauvais to serve as a bridge between the two countries.

The book contained the different churches that can be found in the Philippines. He surmised that Christianity was one of the bridges that connected Filipinos to Europe.

According to d’Aboville, he finds the Philippines as one of the few in the world who can embrace the qualities of the three continents.

If he finds the Philippines exceptional, d’Aboville can also be considered exceptional himself, considering the very checkered life he has lived.

He was brought up in the 1950s in his family’s 400-year-old estate in Brittany, France. This chateau is near the woods, and, d’Aboville said, it is a very beautiful area that he treasures very much.

He explained that this is where his love for nature—which eventually resulted in his advocacies for the environment—started. After his many travels, he came to the Philippines in the late 1970s and decided to stay here for good. He now has a vast property in Mindoro and a vibrant business in Makati City.

35 years in the Philippines

“If I look back in the 35 years I have spent here in the Philippines, I can see three periods,” d’Aboville said.

He said the first period representing his first 20 years in the country was very French.

He worked for the French Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines and was a member of its board twice.

He also became a board member of Alliance Française de Manille, the president of the French School in Manila and trade advisor to the French government.

His involvement in the European community, which saw a rise in his prominence in the country, represented the next 10 years or the second period of his life in the country.

He was very active in the European Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines (ECCP), of which he became the president in 2007. He is now ECCP’s senior adviser to the board.

“From one country, I became involved in around 20 countries,” d’Aboville said.

The former ECCP president said he is still very much interested in assisting the Philippines in facilitating foreign direct investments (FDI) to the country. 

He congratulated Trade Secretary Gregory L. Domingo for the rise in FDI to $6.20 billion last year.

“I hope we reach $10 billion and then $15 billion in FDI in the future because that is what we deserve,” d’Aboville said. According to d’Aboville, he still participates in ECCP committee meetings, particularly those that involve energy and tourism.

The last period or the last five years and moving forward, d’Aboville said he has focused, and will continue to focus, on his Filipino side.

“In my next 30 years, I want to be very Filipino. I had enjoyed doing things for the Philippines in the past 35 years. But, now, I want to focus more on that side,” d’Aboville said.

An example of his past projects was the accreditation and membership of Puerto Galera, Mindoro, into the club of the most beautiful bays in the world in 2005. The club is very exclusive as there are only 44 members.

He is organizing the 11th World Congress of the most beautiful bays in the world during the latter part of the year. He said this prestigious event will be very helpful to Philippine tourism.

Another example is the rural electrification project of Paris-Manila Technology Corp. (Pamatec)—which was established by d’Aboville in 1988—and Bouygues French Group—through a partnership between the Philippine and French government—in Masbate in 2009.

The project was able to provide electricity to 128 barangays and 18,000 households in Masbate.

He also said Pamatec and Bouygues received a lot of recognition, both from the Philippine and French government, for the success of the project.

Through the company’s corporate social responsibility, it was also able to assist persons with disabilities, illnesses and students in Masbate.  It was an outreach project completely financed by d’Aboville’s company.

A new partnership between Pamatec and Bouygues Energies and Services will bring a 100-megawatt solar farm to the province of Negros. He believes in the viability of Negros to become a major player in solar energy over the next few years.

“I am a man who loves development,” d’Aboville said, adding that he will continue to help Masbate and other provinces to further improve the way of life in rural communities.

Seven years ago, d’Aboville and French priest Fr. Yves Caroff started an exchange-student program between France and the Philippines.

Every year, they alternately send French or a Filipino agriculture student or practitioner to Brittany or Kidapawan, Mindanao, for them to learn new developments in the agriculture industry. These students then go back to their respective countries and apply what they have learned there.  “It brings so much good on both sides,” he said.

Malasimbo

Last, the biggest and most successful of his projects is the Malasimbo Music and Arts Festival in Puerto Galera, which has been running for five consecutive years now.  The festival, supported by the Department of Tourism, has gained a following from more than 30 countries, whose nationals flock to the annual event.

According to d’Aboville, the four pillars of the festival are music, arts, indigenous peoples and the environment.          

The music side is handled by his partner, Miro Grgic, with the arts put on display headed by his daughter Olivia.

He and his wife handle the IPs and environment aspects of the festival.  They have pushed for the planting of trees and mangroves and the preservation of the tamaraws.

They have built a small village with eight huts that represent the eight different Mangyan tribes of Mindoro.  These huts explain the history of each tribe, and showcase its culture.

“I think it is very important that the Filipinos today realize where we come from. We should treasure our IPs,” d’Aboville said.

He also believes that Filipinos can learn from IPs how to take care of the environment.

Through a partnership between the Noé Conservation and d’Aboville Foundation—established in 2004—d’Aboville and his friend, Emmanuel Schütz, spearheaded the Tamaraw Conservation Program. 

They have been conducting research and sending proposals to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources on new approaches in the preservation of the endangered species. These animals exist exclusively in Mindoro, and there are only 400 of them remaining.

“The earth is unique and you cannot replace it. We, seven billion people, cannot decide to just go to another planet. If you look at the millions of species in the world today, try to think of one that has the ability to save our planet,” d’Aboville said.

Through his works with the business chambers, his company, foundation and the Malasimbo Festival, d’Aboville’s contributions to the country are worth mentioning.  “I am just a bridge. We have too many walls in this world. We only have so much to gain if we connect with each other,” d’Aboville said.

Image credits: Jimbo Albano

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