75 years of Franco-Filipino friendship

People: Ties that bind

FRENCH TIES Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr. and French Ambassador Michèle Boccoz after their discussion on strengthening PH-France ties in a courtesy call at the DFA (Vanessa Ubac)

And just like that, it truly feels like everything is going back to normal. A whole range of events is slated for the rest of the year as the Philippines and France mark 75 years of diplomatic relations. It’s great to see such events making a comeback and in diplomacy, this type of Herculean effort is very telling of the relationship between the two countries.

The relationship between France and the Philippines was formalized in 1947 after the two countries signed the Treaty of Amity in Paris. This, however, wasn’t the root of the relations. Seventeen French men joined Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition to the Spice Islands, which brought him to Cebu.

The two countries have had many more ties throughout history. At the heart of it are people. Philippine national hero Jose Rizal spent some time in France in the late 1800s while traveling in Europe. He even trained under ophthalmologist and oculoplastic surgeon Dr. Louis de Wecker in Paris then finished his second book, El Filibusterismo, in Biarritz. Thousands of Filipinos currently call France their home and it remains to be a preferred destination for our students who wish to study abroad.

French Ambassador to the Philippines Michele Boccoz shared how an animated discussion with Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. led to the decision to have multiple events throughout the year. “We talked about cinema and passion. We talked about painters in origin countries, exchanges of students, and researchers… climate change, sustainable development, biodiversity,” Amb. Boccoz said. Wanting to highlight every aspect of the robust relationship, Locsin and the ambassador ended with the conclusion that not everything could be done by June 26. “So we decided we had to take six months to celebrate our friendship from June 26 to Dec. 31,” she explained.

RELATION AMICALE From left: French Embassy cultural officer Mark Piton, DFA executive director for European Affairs Rosario Lemque, French Ambassador Michelle Boccoz, and Xavier Leroux of Alliance Francaise Manila

The events will commence on June 26 with the inauguration of the exhibit “Diamond in the Rough” at the Pintô Art Gallery. It will feature works by Filipino artists in France and French artists in the Philippines. The France-Philippines Friendship Park will also be inaugurated at the Las Piñas-Parañaque Wetland Park on the same day. 

Highly anticipated events include Fête dela Musique, the French Film Festival, and the Goût de France culinary festival. Other events in showcasing culture and deepening the relations between the countries are also taking place this year. From a French-Filipino gala dinner organized by the French Chamber to a basketball game between the Philippines Basketball Association and members of the Lyon-Villeurbanne team and the arrival of key French cultural figures to participate in the events, it looks like it’s going to be a busy rest of the year for the French embassy and lovers of French culture in the Philippines. Likewise, the French can also look forward to events hosted by the Philippine embassy in Paris headed by Amb. Junever Mahilum-West.

“Here we are today, not just to look at the last 75 years, but to explore what we want to do in the future or what we want to do together in the next 75 years,” said Amb. Boccoz.

UNIVERSAL Music transcends language barriers and is a key pillar to a country’s cultural diplomacy efforts. Consul General Ma. Antonina Mendoza-Oblena (right) plays the piano with Chinese musician Jing Yang

‘Here we are today, not just to look at the last 75 years, but to explore what we want to do in the future or what we want to do together in the next 75 years.’

Diplomacy without the language barrier

While we’re on the topic of cultural events, one of the challenges diplomats encounter abroad is promoting culture when there’s a language barrier. One thing that works? Something a little more universal–like music. The Philippine consulate general in Xiamen headed by Consul General Antonina Mendoza-Oblena streamed a live concert online titled, “Harmony: Philippines-China Friendship in Love Songs and Lullabies.”

The event saw the unique collaboration of Filipino and Chinese artists featuring Oblena as the first head of a diplomatic post to perform in a full classical concert and world-class Chinese violist Jing Yang.

PH-CHINA MUSICAL DUO Philippine Consulate in Xiamen's Consul General Maria Antonina Mendoza-Oblena (left) and Chinese musician Jing Yang performed Filipino, Chinese, and Western music showcasing harmony among people

Before becoming a diplomat, Consul General Oblena finished two Bachelor of Music degrees in Music Education and Piano—both as cum laude—at the Conservatory of Music of the University of Santo Tomas (UST). Yang, meanwhile, is considered one of the three most famous musicians from Gulangyu Island, having played at the 41st Session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee to celebrate the inscription of Gulangyu as a World Heritage Site.  

The event was viewed by an audience of over 36,000 through Chinese platforms DouYin, Weibo, and WeChat/Weixin as well as on Zoom. It was also lauded by the Chinese audience as a great way to develop an “even deeper friendship” between the two countries. Viewers also commented how it was a welcome break from “hard times.”

Interestingly, Fujian province, where Xiamen is located, is the hometown of the majority of the Filipino-Chinese and their ancestors. This includes Jose Rizal and three former Philippine presidents. According to the consulate, it is due to the long and deep history between the people of the Philippines and China, which ensured the commonality of values and culture, even traits covering family, friendship, music, and love.