Country to watch: Bangladesh

Ending Women’s Month and celebrating the golden jubilee of PH-Bangladesh relations

NIGHT LIGHTS An evening in Dhaka, capital of Bangladesh

On Monday, March 28, Bangladesh and the Philippines celebrated 50 years of diplomatic relations. It was also a celebration of the golden jubilee of Bangladesh’s Independence, which was supposed to have happened last year until it was postponed due to pandemic restrictions. The event was held at the Dusit Thani, one of the hotel’s first big gatherings since the pandemic began.

It’s yet another step toward diplomatic events really becoming normal again. Pre-pandemic, national day events were often held at hotels to accommodate a larger number of guests. The event was well attended with Department of Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Multilateral Affairs and International Economic Relations Lourdes Yparraguirre and Papal Nuncio Charles Brown as their guests of honor.

At 50 years, the relationship between the two countries has been smooth and rather cooperative. Ambassador F.M. Borhan Uddin sees further potential in the relations, particularly when it comes to economic ties. “Still, there are so many areas untapped. We’re trying to explore areas including agriculture, connectivity, the IT sector, garments, food, frozen and processed,” he says.

FOR ALL THE LADIES OUT THERE Jeannie Javelosa talking about projects that have helped women in different sectors

There is another sector the ambassador wishes to push for—shipbuilding. “We have a wonderful shipbuilding industry in Bangladesh. So we are trying to make some sort of cooperation with the Philippines,” says Ambassador Borhan. “We can build ships based on a country’s specifications. Philippine investors are also welcome to have joint ventures with Bangladesh’s shipbuilders.” He adds that they are also willing to share their glass fiber industry to the world, particularly with the Philippines as we have yet to have our own.

Amb. Borhan arrived during the pandemic. With eased pandemic restrictions, he hopes that there will be more opportunities for them to build up people-to-people relations between Filipinos and Bangladeshis. “There’s a lot Filipinos don’t know about Bangladesh yet and our people have a lot to discover about the Philippines. It would be great if we can change that,” he says. Most Filipinos venture to Dhaka for shopping but the ambassador says there’s more to Bangladesh than that. There’s also nature and a rich culture that he hopes more people will be interested to learn about.

ENDING WOMEN'S MONTH WITH A BANG A fun gathering to talk about art and the female spirit at the Yuchengco Museum

‘Feminine Rising’

Toward the end of Women’s Month, I found myself at the Yuchengco Museum. Diplomatic spouses, members of International Business Women-Manila, and expat women living in the Philippines for years gathered for an afternoon of art appreciation and learning about female-led projects.

There’s a lot Filipinos don’t know about Bangladesh yet and our people have a lot to discover about the Philippines.

Multi-hyphenate Jeannie Javelosa donned her curator and social entrepreneur hats on that day. She discussed the paintings we saw in the museum, particularly the national identity of the Filipino shaped by national artist Fernando Amorsolo. “Amorsolo dominated the Commonwealth period and post-war Philippines,” she said. To most of our group, Amorsolo and his works were pretty novel but for some, we grew up knowing about Amorsolo’s talent and paintings. It was, however, still refreshing to revisit them through Javelosa’s eyes. “He became a master of the tropical sunlight, known for his sensitivity to the effects of light and highlighting the more romantic touch of all these artworks,” she said.

FOR HER BY HER Great Women ASEAN's Products on display at the Yuchengco Museum

Amorsolo painted women as they worked and even during moments that are much more tender. While some modern feminists may not agree with some of his depictions of women, there are a lot of indicators in his art of how he viewed a woman’s inner strength. After all, there’s so much beauty in the softness and grace of how a woman wields her power, something Javelosa also discussed in her book, Feminine Rising.

Javelosa’s work with female artisans through her platform called GREAT (Gender-Responsive Economic Actions for the Transformation of Women) Women ASEAN and sustainable lifestyle shop Echostore were extremely challenged by the pandemic. In both projects, Javelosa and her partners helped local and indigenous artisans (about 80 percent of them female) in their production and getting their goods to the right market. She also shared how they pivoted during these challenging times, from moving their stocks online to consigning some of them and finding other ways to help the artisans.

NATURAL BEAUTY Countryside Bangladesh (Sabbir Hossain)

Currently, the museum is preparing to unveil an exhibit on Jose Rizal. Paintings by Ricarte Puruganan, a contemporary of Amorsolo, are also on display on the museum’s third floor.

Filipino businessman and diplomat Alfonso Yuchengco founded the museum to house his growing art collection back in 2005. He was a former ambassador to Japan and China and, at one point, he was also the Philippines’ permanent representative to the UN. He passed away in 2017.

MEDIA AND GOVERNMENTS AS FRIENDS From left: Michaela del Callar of GMA News, New Zealand’s Ambassador to the Philippines Peter Kell, DFA Human Resources Management Office Assistant Secretary Chris Montero, DFA Asia Pacific Affairs Assistant Secretary Neal Imperial, Bangladesh’s Ambassador to the Philippines F.M. Borhan Uddin, DFA Office of Consular Affairs Deputy Assistant Secretary Christian de Jesus, and the author