A dramatic symbol of Philippines-France friendship in Tawi-Tawi; a Global Pandemic

Published April 4, 2021, 12:12 AM

by Former House Speaker Jose C. De Venecia Jr.


Jose de Venecia Jr.
Former Speaker of the House

In a move to halt the skyrocketing cases of COVID-19 in France, President Emmanuel Macron reimposed a (third) lockdown, throughout the country for at least a month.

As of March 31, there have been some 4.56 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 with more than 95,000 deaths and around 59,000 active cases, based on the WHO data.

News reports quoted the French finance ministry as saying that “the lockdown will force the temporary closure of 150,000 businesses throughout the country at a cost of 11 billion euros of 12.89 billion US dollars a month.”

Indeed, it was a tough choice between life and the economy for President Macron.

France is home to thousands of our fellow Filipinos.

We and wife Gina last visited France in September, 2019. In Paris, we remember watching on television President Macron paying tribute to former French President Jacques Chirac who passed away at the time. Macron hailed the late two-term President as a “great Frenchman.”

President Chirac, whom we had the privilege of conferring with when we were Speaker of the House, was a towering figure in France and Europe, politically and physically (he was six feet two inches tall).

Chirac’s political career spanned some 50 years, serving his country as president for 12 years, two-time prime minister, mayor of Paris for 18 years, and Cabinet minister in various capacities. He was also an officer in the French army during the Algerian War.

The late French leader strongly opposed the US-led war in Iraq in 2003, which was considered by many as one of his most notable foreign policy decisions as president. He was also a steadfast advocate of the European Union.

This columnist as then Speaker of the House remembers with honor and gratitude receiving in Paris in 2005 from then President Chirac the prestigious French Legion of Honor, the Grand Cross, which was also previously awarded to President Fidel V. Ramos, President Corazon Aquino, President Manuel Quezon, General and Foreign Minister Carlos P. Romulo, and Press Secretary Teodoro Benigno, who used to work for the Agence France Press (AFP) in Manila.

We are also happy to note that in 2008, as co-president of the French Legion of Honor Association in the Philippines and with then French Ambassador to Manila Gerard Chesnel, we helped rebuild the first Muslim mosque in the Philippines, located in southern Tawi-Tawi, built in the first years of Islam in the Philippines by Muslims from the Arab world and converts in Indonesia and Mindanao.

The mosque was reportedly built in 1380, some 141 years before the arrival of the Spanish colonizers in the Philippines in 1521.

Our good friend Ambassador Chesnel and we considered it a “small, humble project but it symbolizes Christian-Muslim solidarity in a strategic isle of the Sulu Sea where Islam began in the Philippines.”

We also regarded the project in the southernmost isle as a “dramatic expression of friendship and confluence of Philippine and French foreign policy.”

We told Ambassador Chesnel that while we achieved something noteworthy in the country’s deepest south, we should also consider doing something that could be noteworthy in our country’s farthest north in the Batanes islands.

The French Legion of Honor is an order of chivalry established by French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 and is the oldest and highest ranking medal of honor in France.

The onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic early last year has halted our foreign travels as part of our modest foray in political party and parliamentary diplomacy in Asia and the international community. Our meetings and speaking engagements are currently carried out virtually.

However, it gave us more time with our son Congressman Christopher and our other children, Alexandra, Leslie, who writes a column for Barrons in New York, Joey III, and Vivian. It also allowed us to rekindle old ties with our beloved constituents in the fourth district of Pangasinan whom we had the privilege to represent in the House of Representatives first as a young 29-year-old congressman in 1969 and eventually as five-time Speaker of the House.

Indeed it is an honor and privilege to serve our country and for which we are always grateful to our fellow Pangasineses and the Filipino people.

In the meantime, we continue to storm heaven with prayers that this raging plague will soon be stamped out so we can reopen our economy and live “normal” lives again, indeed for all peoples of the world as this is a global pandemic.

Have a blessed and joyous Easter, dear readers!