By Genalyn D. Kabiling and Argyll Cyrus B. Geducos
Seoul, South Korea — The country’s vibrant relations with South Korea are expected to be strengthened with the planned cooperation accords on transportation safety, technological development, port expansion, and revitalized trade during President Duterte’s official visit here.
Duterte, accompanied by several Cabinet members, arrived in Seoul Sunday morning for a three-day official visit.
The four bilateral agreements will be signed after Duterte’s meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the Blue House scheduled today.
His visit includes meetings with Korean government leaders, the Filipino community, and South Korean business leaders.
This is the Philippine leader’s first official visit to South Korea since he won the presidency in 2016. His visit is upon the invitation of the South Korean President.
“The President will witness the signing of several bilateral agreements after his meeting with President Moon Jae-in. The meeting between President Duterte and President Moon Jae-in is expected to further enhance and strengthen our bilateral relations and cooperation in all fields,” Philippine Ambassador to South Korea Raul Hernandez said here.
“We foresee this cooperation will only get stronger and deeper,” he added.
Hernandez said a memorandum of understanding on transportation cooperation would be inked between the Department of Transportation (DOTr) and the Korea’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport.
He said the agreement seeks “to enhance joint participation in construction projects in either country or in third countries, facilitation of enhancement of transport safety, security, and environmental protection and facilitation of the provision of transport-related human resources, equipment, and materials.”
The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and Ministry of Science and Information Communication Technology of Korea will also sign a memorandum of understanding on scientific and technological cooperation.
“This, of course, will deepen scientific and technological cooperation at the experts’ level in many areas, including but not limited to, advanced material sources. We are talking here of biotechnology, nanotechnology, data analysis, artificial intelligence, space technology, innovation policy,” Hernandez said.
The Department of Finance (DOF) will also sign a loan agreement with South Korea for the new Cebu International Container Port project.
“This loan agreement will increase the capacity and efficiency of the new Cebu International Container Port,” Hernandez said.
“And of course, this will boost the economic development of Cebu and the surrounding regions by providing jobs to the residents and also it will inject vigor to the Philippine economy – because through it, there will be unimpeded flow of goods and services in the Visayas region,” he added.
A memorandum of understanding on trade and economic cooperation will also be forged between the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Korean Ministry of Knowledge and Economy.
“This will establish the joint commission of trade and economic cooperation and this will be held at the vice ministerial level to discuss engagements in trade and investment industry and industrial science and technology, among other areas of cooperation,” Hernandez said.
Apart from the four bilateral accords, Hernandez said two other agreements on agriculture cooperation and forest policy and technology will be signed during the President’s visit to South Korea.
“These are the proposed MOUs to be signed in the presence of the two leaders, but there are also other MOUs that will be signed separately at Lotte Hotel,” he said.
“This will help the Philippines in our efforts to rehabilitate our forest and to prevent unimpeded flow of goods and services in the Visayas region,” he added.
Hernandez said the country’s relations with South Korea remain “robust and vibrant” after 69 years of the establishment of diplomatic ties.
He said when the Korean War broke out in 1950, the Philippines was the first in Asia to send troops under the aegis of the United Nations command to help South Korea defend its freedom.
“After that, South Korea has never forgotten our principled stand for freedom and it has always cherished our brotherhood forged in blood,” he said.
“So over the years, the leaders and the officials of the two countries continue to nourish this relationship and which led to the current state of robust and vibrant bilateral relations,” he added.
OFWs in S. Korea
Filipino migrant workers are getting equal labor protection and benefits as local residents in South Korea, Philippine Ambassador to South Korea Raul Hernandez assured.
Speaking ahead of Duterte’s meeting with the Filipino community, Hernandez said Filipino workers, including construction and service workers, teachers and other professionals, receive the same wage and other benefits under the South Korea’s labor laws as locals.
His first public engagement was an assembly of Filipino workers at the Grand Hilton Hotel and Convention Center late Sunday afternoon.
“The Filipino community here in South Korea is solidly behind the President and in his campaign against corruption, against drugs, and against criminality,” Hernandez said.
At present, around 66,000 Filipinos are living and working in South Korea. Of this number, 26,000 Filipinos work under the Employment Permit System (EPS), a government-to-government scheme which allows small and medium Korean business companies to hire foreigners. They are mostly employed in factories, service industry and construction.
Increased trade, investments
The Philippines is looking forward to increased trade and investments from South Korea.
Hernandez said the President is expected to encourage South Korean businessmen to consider the country as an investment destination during a business forum on Tuesday.
Hernandez said they hope the President’s meeting with the Korean business community would be successful and lead to more foreign direct investments in the coming years.
“The President’s meeting with the business community is one of the highlights of the visit of the President in South Korea and we foresee that his meeting with the CEOs and other businessmen and presidents of other big companies will be a good opportunity for the President to promote and to sell the Philippines to the business people and investors here in Korea,” said during a media interview here.
“I have no doubt that he will do it very excellently and also, we hope that this meeting will translate to increasing bilateral trade and investments. And we also hope that this meeting will increase Korean foreign direct investments in the few years to come,” he said.
At present, Hernandez said South Korea is the seventh largest trading partner of the Philippines with a total trade of about US$10.6 billion. It is also fifth largest official development assistance partner with US$570 million in loans and grants for the year 2017.
South Korea is also the country’s top source of tourists reaching 1.6 million in 2017.
Apart from trade cooperation, the President is also expected to push for closer tourism cooperation between the countries.
Hernandez cited that South Korea is one of the country’s “foremost defense and security partners,” citing that the Asian neighbor has been instrumental in the government’s effort to modernize the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
“Some of our newest defense equipment, like for example the FA-50 fighter jets, were procured from South Korea so we look forward to further enhancing this close cooperation in the years to come,” he said.
He said the President is scheduled to inspect some defense equipment in one of the Korean bases during his visit here.