Czech Republic pumps prime projects into PHL

THE Philippines today is often touted as the fastest-growing economy in the region, in the same breath that the Czech Republic is also considered as such in Europe.

“That is why there are many Czech companies now doing business in [your] country,” said Philippine Honorary Consul to Prague Bretislav Skacel.

In Photo: Philippine Honorary Consul to Prague Bretislav Skacel (right) with Czech Republic Embassy’s Economic and Trade Section First Secretary Benjamin Ziga

“And the latest is CREA [Czech Renewable Energy Alliance] Hydro & Energy, [a] company specializing in water management, renewable-energy resources and environmental services.”

Skacel flew in two weeks ago leading a group known as Cluster, a representation of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) from his home country. He said Czechinvest, the investment and business development agency of the Czech Republic, defines Cluster as “a group of regionally linked companies, entrepreneurs and associated institutions or organizations—universities and colleges—whose links have potential to strengthen and enhance their competitiveness”.

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Skacel gave a brief review of Cluster, which started in 2000 and became a legal entity in 2004, leading to the formation of the export group that is the predecessor of CREA, he said.

In 2008 their country’s National Cluster Association was formed to bring together Cluster groups and other pro-Cluster institutions to coordinate the sustainable development of the concept in the Czech Republic.

A token of appreciation is given to Trade Undersecretary for Management Services Group Rowel Barba (right).

The aim is the high-quality development of the Cluster organization and their success in the field of research and development innovation, human capital development, internationalization export, SMEs support and image building of the Czech Republic as partner for various projects.

He said CREA Hydro&Energy alone has 17 members in Europe, while in the international arena, it has 12 in Europe and two in the Philippines: the Philippine Chamber of Commerce for Czech Republic and Slovakia, as well as Sta. Clara International Corp. Manila.

‘In-love’ with PHL

“I CAME to the Philippines for the first time in 2001 and immediately  fell in love as soon as I set foot in your beautiful country,” he said.

At that time, he was general manager of his company to implemented the first project in the Cordillera highlands, the water-treatment plan for the Baguio Water District. During the construction, he visited the country three to four times a year to look after the progress of the project in the Summer Capital.

Skacel said the project was soon followed by the installation of several hydroelectric-power plants in Sevilla town of Bohol, which were financed by the World Bank.

The Sevilla Hydroelectric Power Plant is a joint-venture enterprise between the municipality of Sevilla and the Bohol Electric Cooperative in Barangay Ewon. “We commenced with that venture in 2006. It consequently started operations in November 2008,” he added.

Skacel described the Sevilla plant in Bohol as a run-off mini-hydropower plant on the Loboc River, near the famous Chocolate Hills and tarsier reservation. The local budget came from the Development Bank of the Philippines, while the developer-loan purchaser and now operator of the plant is the Bohol Electric Cooperative.

The Czech consul said the consortium of CREA Hydro&Energy members improved the original design during a tendering procedure that allowed better hydroelectric parameters to be obtained. The final design reached 1,729 kilowatts.

The award for the design, manufacturing, supply and installation of electro-mechanical equipment went to the consortium led by water turbines and hydro-mechanical equipment maker Strojirny Brno. The equipment comprises two vertical Kaplan turbines, two vertical synchronous generators, hydraulic governors, logs overhead bridge crane and auxiliary equipment.

Then-Bohol Gov. Edgar M. Chatto was so impressed by the project and effusively praised the former ambassador of the Czech Republic and was quoted in the local paper, having said: “Mere ‘thank yous’ for the Czech Republic are never enough because of the strong affiliation and support that its officials are giving for…Bohol.”

“Rest assured that your full support for the province…would be fully appreciated and equally returned,” Chatto warmly told the Czech officials.

Missions: Successful

SKACEL said his Philippine missions were so successful that then-Philippine Ambassador to the Czech Republic Evelyn Austria Garcia, the first career office to head the Embassy in Prague, appointed him honorary consul.

“So I am now promoting the mutual businesses between the Czech Republic and the Philippines,” he proudly declared.

On September 10 Skacel was back in the country and promoted the Cluster, CREA Hydro&Energy. He invited prominent businessmen and investors for a presentation at a hotel in Makati, which was attended by, among others, Executive Protection, Inc. President (Ret.) Maj. Gen. Melchor P. Rosales and representatives from ZEV Technologies and Glockwork, Santa Clara International Corp., and others.

“We will have two more conferences in Manila and then [proceed] to Guimaras to meet local government officials and companies,” he disclosed.

The Czech national said their aim is to help small development projects in the provinces, “and now we are promoting new companies, new technologies, such as pumps, pumping stations, water turbines, geological services and others that are well-established in the Czech Republic.”

He said Czech companies helped established a call center for German air carrier Lufthansa in the Philippines. “But the [main hub] is organized from our town in Brno, Czech Republic, because we also established the call center there for Europe.”

Brno, Skacel described, is known for its modernist buildings, such as the restored Villa Tugendhat completed in 1930 by architect Mies van der Rohe.

Meanwhile, the medieval Špilberk Castle houses a city museum, gardens and a former prison with vaulted tunnels. The Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul has baroque altars, a 14th-century statue of the Madonna and Child, and city views from its steeple.

Aside from business links, Skacel said the Philippines and Prague also share a religious heritage: The veneration of the Madonna and Child. This could be considered as one of the Philippines’s strongest links to Prague in the Central European City. The Infant Jesus Christ icon is permanently displayed in the cathedral there.

Also called Child of Prague, it is a 16th-century Roman Catholic wax-coated wooden statue of The Child Jesus holding a globus cruciger (Latin for “cross-bearing orb”), also known as the orb and cross. With a scepter as royal regalia, such is a Christian symbol of authority since the Middle Ages which was used in coins and iconography.

Multifaceted partnership

ASKED about trade between the two countries, he said in 2016, the Czech Republic was the Philippines’s 31st-largest trading partner out of 226, 28th-largest export market out of 213 and 33rd-largest source of imports out of 207, with total bilateral trade amounting to $283 million.

Skacel said that, currently, the Philippines procures from the Czechs transportation equipment, energy, agriculture and agri-food products, as well as mechanized machines.

“You also buy from us construction materials, pharmaceuticals, including medicines, and, of course, heavy industry [hardware] like turbines.”

He said he would like for the two countries to have deep cooperation in the defense industry, “where we also signed an agreement with the Department of National Defense and the Czech Republic’s Ministry of Defense”.

In June the two nations inked a defense-cooperation agreement. Philippine Defense Undersecretary Ricardo David Jr. and Czech Deputy Minister-Head of Defense Policy and Strategy Division of the Ministry of Defense Jakub Landovský represented their respective countries when they signed the agreement in Prague on May 29.

“The agreement spells out areas of cooperation such as defense and security policy, procurement policy, defense logistics, peacekeeping and humanitarian operations, compliance with international treaties of defense, security and arms control, personnel management, military training and education, as well as other activities that may be agreed by both parties,” Czech Embassy in the Philippines Deputy Head of Mission Jan Vytopil was quoted as saying.

“And what items does Prague buy from the Philippines?” Skacel said they are mostly microchips, coconut oil and dried foods.

“At the moment we have the biggest investment in the country called Home Credit. It employs about 5,000 Filipinos,” he volunteered.

Home Credit BV is an international nonbank financial institution founded in 1997 in the Czech Republic. The company operates in 14 countries and focuses on lending primarily to people with little or no credit history. As of 2016, the company has over 15 million active customers, with two-thirds of them in Asia and 7.3 million in China.

Increasing trade

THE consul from Czechia added he hopes to increase the current trade with the Philippines because “we have a negative trade balance. We hope to change that and the economic agreements should help narrow our trade deficit.”

On the other hand, Czech’s First Secretary (Economic Section) Benjamin Ziga said it was the embassy here in Manila that arranged and supported the forum in Makati “for the Cluster to be able to talk to Filipino partners and government sectors”.

Ziga added, “We are looking to facilitate businesses between [our country] and Filipino companies in hydroenergy, water and geology. Now, we are moving into B2B [business-to-business] blocks.”

“And we hope that this event is a success as we will replicate this to other sectors, not only hydroenergy but also possibly transportation and agriculture. We hope to keep the agenda up in the Czech Republic and the Philippines, as well.”

The First Secretary said the recent signing of the economic cooperation agreement between the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Ministry of Trade and Industry of the Czech Republic will speed up investments in the Philippines.

Asked whether his country is joining the Public-Private Partnership Program of the Duterte administration, Ziga said: “We do hope so; we are encouraging Czech companies to participate.  However, we also have to find proper Filipino partners that could facilitate their participation in the projects.”

Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez has encouraged the Czech Republic to explore possible cooperation in the development of micro, small and medium enterprises. Other areas of cooperation may include food and beverage, defense and security solutions.

Lopez noted that the Philippines could tap the Czech Republic’s strengths in industry to implement Manila’s Manufacturing Resurgence Program to help address the existing gaps in the implementation of various industry road maps.

In the area of trade, the Philippines can boost exports of mid-priced apparel to the Czech Republic, amid rising demand.

There is also potential for frozen marine products, dried fruit and vegetables—all eligible under the European Union Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus or EU GSP+ that allows tariff-free entry of goods.

Opportunities for investment include information technology-business-process management, knowledge-process outsourcing, processed and specialty food, energy, design-driven products and aerospace/aeronautics.

History and heritage

IT might sound outlandish but, in the 18th century, the Philippines and the people of the country then known as Czechoslovakia were already linked when Paul Klein, the Czech Jesuit missionary to the Philippines, wrote the first diccionarios in Tagalog.

He later passed on his dictionary to other authors, until it was compiled and reedited by Juan de Noceda and Pedro de Sanlucar. They published it as Vocabulario de la Lengua Tagala in Manila in 1754. The last edition of this book was published as late as 2013 in Manila.

Aside from the humanitarian assistance that the Czech Republic has been extending to various areas of the Philippines, the Czech officials said the significance of the Czech people’s contribution to the cultural development of the Filipino nation was the construction of the famous Chapel of Saint Joseph the Worker, otherwise known as the Ossorio Chapel, in Victorias City, Negros Occidental, by Czech-born American architect Antonin Raymound (born Reimann) many years ago, as this chapel is now a tourist attraction in Western Visayas.

Skacel reminded the Filipinos of their friendship with the Czech people long before the Americans, who came to our shores only prior to the 1900s.

He said our national hero Jose Rizal had forged a very close friendship with one of the most famous residents of Prague, Ferdinand Blumentritt. The capital was then a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

On September 10, 1853, Blumentritt was studying History at Prague University when his correspondence with Rizal began. He was a master teacher at Leitmeritz, today known as Litomerice in the Czech Republic, and had already published scholarly writings on Philippine languages and ethnography.

The 33-year-old Blumentritt was married to Rosa Muller and had three children: two sons, Friedrich and Konrad, and a daughter named Dolores, whom Blumentritt sometimes affectionately addressed with the Tagalog nickname “Loleng”, according to biographer Leon Ma. Guererro.

“Our shared history goes a long, long way,” Skacel declared.

Image Credits: Jimbo Albano, Recto Mercene, Nonie Reyes

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Turning Points 2018