“The French-Philippine connection dates back much earlier through historic interactions among our nationals,” said Michèle Boccoz, French ambassador to the Philippines, at the launch of the yearlong celebration of the diamond jubilee of diplomatic relations between France and the Philippines.
“Frenchmen like Paul Proust de la Gironière and Yves Leopold Germain Gaston traveled to the Philippines to settle and contribute to the development of local communities while Filipinos, such as the Ilustrados, traveled to France to find inspiration in the democratic values of liberté, égalité, and fraternité,” said Boccoz, referring, apart from Felix Hidalgo, to the political activists and intellectuals Jose Rizal and Juan Luna.
Elpidio Quirino, then Philippine vice-president and foreign affairs secretary, and French foreign minister Georges Bidault signed the Treaty of Amity in Paris on June 26, 1947, formalizing what had connected the two countries since before the early 16th century, when the explorer Ferdinand Magellan arrived in the Philippines with 15 Frenchmen on board what was left of his flotilla of five ships.
Although it was only in 2015 that an incumbent French president, François Hollande, ever visited the Philippines and only three years before, in 2012, that a French leader high up in rank, French prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, paid the country an official visit since 1947, there have been centuries worth of interactions between the two countries.
In the mid-1800s, the French had a particular interest in the northernmost island of Sulu they then called Taguime from Taguima or Tagihamas, referring to the Yakan or “the people of the hinterlands.” That island, now called Basilan, was blockaded by the French from 1844 to 1845, during which the Sulu sultan ceded Basilan to France, despite Spanish protest, in exchange for the equivalent of 500,000 francs. While the sultan agreed, along with the Basilan datus, who gave their consent in formal written agreement, and the French cabinet, who approved the annexation, King Louis Philippe vetoed the move. The king’s intervention on grounds of the impossible logistical and military demands of establishing a territory in such a contentious region, prompted the French to withdraw all claims on Basilan in a proclamation dated Aug. 5, 1845 in favor of Spain.
Around this time, although historians have no material evidence to link it to France’s failed attempt to occupy Basilan, the French king, Louis Philippe, was in deep talks with Spanish monarch, Ferdinand VII, over the marriage of his son, Antoine Marie Philippe Louis d’Orléans, to the heir presumptive to the Spanish crown, Infanta María Luisa Fernanda. The two did marry on Oct. 10, 1846, becoming the Duke and Duchess of Montpensier.
In celebrating 75 years of friendship, a yearlong calendar abuzz with art events, poetry reading, concerts and music festivals, artists exchange and residency programs, exhibition games as a prelude to the 2024 Paris Olympics, and a series of meetings and events promoting economic and trade relations has been lined up to further strengthen the ties that bind the French and the Filipinos.
“The Philippines and France have had meaningful exchanges throughout the years, most notably in culture, trade, development, education, and defense,” said Boccoz. “Indeed, there is still much to discover and learn from each other, which is why this 75th anniversary celebration is an occasion to look back on our shared history and envision a closer partnership between our two countries over the next 75 years.”