'Historic' 123rd Independence Day rites held at PH Embassy in Morocco

Published June 16, 2021, 7:07 PM

by Roy Mabasa

The raising of the Filipino flag at the Philippine Embassy in Morocco on June 12, 2021 during the 123rd Philippine Independence Day celebration was historic not only for Ambassador Leslie Baja but also for the more than 4,600 Filipinos currently working in that country.

Philippine flag being raised at the Philippine Embassy grounds for the first time in 26 years since the first Embassy was closed. (PE Morocco)

It was the first official event hosted in the chancery since the Embassy reopened in December 2019 but whose full operation was hampered by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Luckily, no Filipinos have been infected with coronavirus disease in that North African country.

Baja earns the distinction as the first Philippine envoy to be posted in Morocco after more than 26 years since the last Philippine Embassy was shut down due to budgetary constraints.

Philippine Ambassador to Rabat Leslie Baja together with Embassy officials and Filipino community leaders sing the national anthem during the historic celebration of the 123rd Philippine Independence Day in Morocco on June 12, 2021. (PE Morocco).

Taking into account COVID-19 restrictions and other existing health protocols in Morocco, the Embassy invited the leaders of various Filipino community associations from Rabat, Casablanca, Marrakech, and Tangier to attend the Independence Day rites. After the flag-raising ceremony, Embassy officials read the messages of President Duterte, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr., and Labor and Employment Secretary Silvestre Bello III.

In his address, Ambassador Baja assured the Filipino community leaders that the Embassy, the newly opened Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO-Rabat), and the Philippine Honorary Consulate General in Casablanca will work hand-in-hand not only to strengthen and improve the Philippines’ bilateral relations but more importantly, ensure the welfare and protect the rights of overseas Filipinos.

Philippine Ambassador to Rabat Leslie J. Baja delivers his remarks during the 123rd Philippine Independence Day celebration in Morocco on June 12, 2021. He is joined by (L to R) Third Secretary and Vice Consul Monera Fatima, Third Secretary and Vice Consul Bea Antonio, Consul General Maria Agnes Cervantes, and Labor Attache Dominador Salanga. (PE Morocco)

Baja, in his remarks, also paid tribute to the good image of Filipinos in Morocco, describing them as the “better ambassadors of the Philippines in Morocco”.

The envoy encouraged the Filipino community leaders to work hand in hand with the Embassy and embrace the motto “kung sama-sama, kayang-kaya” (we can do it if we are together).

In an open forum to address some of their pressing concerns, the Filipino community leaders expressed their appreciation for the efforts of the Embassy to reach out to them and finally realizing their long-time wish to have a resident embassy in Rabat.

The Philippines established diplomatic relations with Morocco on April 10, 1975. This was followed by the first opening of the Philippine embassy (no record of exactly when) only to close in 1986 after the EDSA revolution.

It reopened a second time in 1990 but closed again around 1993 due to budgetary constraints. The Embassy reopened for a third time on December 27, 2019 but became only operational in October 2020 after the COVID restrictions were eased in Rabat.

According to records obtained from the Labor department, Filipinos in Morocco are mostly employed as household workers (51 percent), hairdressers/beauticians (19 percent), and food preparation helpers (11 percent). The rest are engineers (6 percent), cooks (3 percent), professionals (2 percent), and salespersons (1 percent).