PRAGUE—Filipino diplomats who recently visited the Czech Republic capital said the Philippines is keen on the Central European country’s role in local infrastructure projects.
Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Ma. Theresa Lazaro, who was in the Czech city for a series of meetings with the Czech Foreign Ministry, said infrastructure is a “key element” in developing the Philippines, and that the country is looking at the Czech Republic to improve the former’s mass-transit system.
“Because of our internal problems in the past, we weren’t able to look at our infrastructure. But now, we’re [going] full blast,” Lazaro shared during a lecture on the Philippines’s independent foreign policy at the Metropolitan University of Prague on November 14.
Both Lazaro and Philippine envoy to the Czech Republic Eduardo Martin Meñez emphasized the significance of Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala’s working visit to Manila in April 2023.
“It’s not only about security matters that are just as important in the Czech Republic; it’s also economic diplomacy,” Meñez said during the lecture.
The ambassador believes “Central Europe is being represented by the Czech Republic. Certainly, it is leading the way insofar as actively resuming your national interest in our part of the world…the Indo-Pacific Region is closer…than it seems.”
In his bilateral talks with President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. in April, Fiala said his visit to Manila would expand economic and defense cooperation, and result in more partnerships between Czech and Philippine firms. He mentioned agriculture, aviation, transportation and space technologies being offered by their side.
The Czech government has stated in its so-called Indo-Pacific strategy that it looks at the region as a “world trade hub with strategic, economic, demographic, political and security importance to directly influence developments in Europe.”
The European nation is the Philippines’s 39th-largest trading partner, with a total trade volume reaching more than $647 million in 2022.
IN late October, Malacañang imparted that the Czech government offered technical assistance that could help secure the country’s territorial waters.
In a meeting with Marcos Jr., Ambassador Karel Hejč said that his country would have the pleasure to show firms interested in working with the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine Coast Guard.
Amid tensions in the West Philippine Sea and increased military activity in the Taiwan Strait, Lazaro emphasized that the Philippines “[does]n’t want anything to happen” to the nearby island.
“We have 150,000 Filipinos working there. Anything that may happen to Taiwan will definitely affect us—perhaps as collateral damage. Perhaps we can be the center of whatever military action that may take place,” the foreign affairs official shared.
“We don’t want anything to happen. And, therefore, we continuously have consultations and discussions with China as well as the United States,” the foreign affairs official explained. “We always tell them that we may be a small country, but they should be discussing [the matter] peacefully through political discussions.”
With regard to geopolitical issues, she expressed the Philippine position of “expand[ing friendship and strengthening] relations with like-minded countries like the Czech Republic,” then added that the Philippine government is trying to balance the situation given China is “our top trading partner,” and the US is “our only [mutual-defense] treaty ally.”
Lazaro’s statement came days before the bilateral meeting between US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in California.
Opportunities in Czechia
EARLIER this month, the Czech Ministry of Interior published a proposal to increase the quota for accepting Filipino workers into the Czech labor market. If the government passes the proposal, the number of Filipino workers will be hiked to 10,300 from the current 5,000.
The proposal comes months after Fiala’s visit to the Philippines, when he relayed that Czech companies “are very satisfied with Filipino citizens.”
The undersecretary addressed a question about human trafficking and said it remains a problem, although the Philippine government and civil-society groups have been involved in controlling the issue. She also expressed the importance of the Philippine-Czech relations on the concern:
“We’re propping our heads on how to go about it. That’s why we want these [ties] with the Czech Republic, because [its labor relations are excellent—it has high national and European Union] standards.”
Her lecture also underscored the importance of discussing the Philippines’s independent foreign policy to young Czechs, as she said her lecture was meant to establish awareness, and that the country’s position is geared not only toward politics and economy, but also the protection of Filipino nationals and their government’s actions on the international stage.
“The Czech people don’t really know about us. It’s the same thing with [Filipinos—not many] know about the Czech Republic,” she explained. “But this is our own small way of getting [them to learn about the uniqueness of our foreign-policy pillars].”
She hoped that “the Czech students [learned what we did in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea] arbitral tribunal against China, which was part of international law that could be used in certain situations by other countries.”
Image credits: Andy Peñafuerte III