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Korean firms wanted in banking, auto mobile, energy, electronics, many othersInterview with Ambassador Raul S. Hernandez of the Philippines in Seoul

Question: What are the important developments scheduled between Korea and your country?
Answer:
Since establishing relations in 1949, the Philippines’ relations with Korea have been one of our most dynamic, encompassing political, economic, socio-cultural, consular and defense cooperation, among others.
As a sign of stable and steadfast relations between our two countries, ROK President Park Geun-hye visited Manila on an official visit to attend the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting on 18-19 November 2015, and to hold a bilateral summit with President Benigno S. Aquino III. This visit continues our long tradition of high-level visits and follows two visits made by President Aquino to South Korea, first on a state visit that took place in Seoul in October 2013, and the second on an official visit to Busan to attend the ASEAN-Korea Commemorative Summit marking the 25th anniversary of establishment of ASEAN- Korea Dialogue Partnership in December 2014.
These three visits in three years served to reaffirm our long-standing friendship while looking for opportunities to raise it to a higher level. While this year there are no scheduled high-level visits, mainly due to the change in leadership following the national elections on 9 May 2016, we expect President Park to visit the Philippines again next year as the country will chair the ASEAN Summit, and meetings with dialogue partners, for 2017.

▲Ambassador Raul S. Hernandez, Ambassador of the Republic of the Philippines

Q: What are the areas in your country where you want Korean companies to invest and what are the areas where you wish your businessmen to invest in Korea?
A:
The exciting and "hot" areas of investment right now by Koreans in the Philippines are in the following:
- Banking and finance (last year Shinhan and IBK just opened their first full branch in the Philippines)
- Auto parts and automobiles
- Energy (especially renewable energy)
- Electronics and related products including energy conserving electronic products such as solar panels and LED lights
- Agribusiness and food processing
- Tourism and resort facilities and real estate
- Infrastructure and PPP projects

Philippine companies are now increasingly looking to invest outwards, and here in Korea their interests include the resorts and tourism, food, and service and finance industries, among others.

Q: What are the attractive tourist destinations of your country?
A:
Under our current award-winning promotion campaign, entitled “It’s more fun in the Philippines,” we have been promoting nine leading destinations in the country, starting with the capital of Manila and nearby areas. Outside of the capital, the major attractions are Cebu and Boracay, as well as the central and west Philippine beach destinations of Bohol and Palawan. Koreans have also been drawn to Baguio/Banaue and Subic/Clark for golf, English language studies, hiking, and other outdoor or family-oriented activities. Rounding out these destinations are two places at the opposite ends of the archipelago: Ilocos and Davao.
In addition, the Department of Tourism has identified four emerging destinations that are drawing more and more travelers, including from Korea: Bacolod, Legaspi/Albay, Iloilo and Puerto Princesa. These will hopefully be served in the next few years by regular direct flights by Philippine and Korean carriers.

Q: What is the volume of bilateral trade, its outlook in the next 12 months?
A:
Total bilateral trade between the Philippines and Korea is around US$8 billion per year. We foresee our trade relations with Korea to remain healthy in the coming years. If you will look at the last five years, our bilateral trade has averaged growth of 6.90 percent per year.

Q: What are your competitive field of industry and products attractive to Korea and what are Korean products that your country might wish to import?
A:
The Philippines exports a wide range of products to Korea. The biggest categories are chemicals (especially petrochemicals), electronics, mineral products especially copper ores and concentrates, fresh fruits especially bananas, and other agricultural products such as tobacco, etc.
One of the areas Koreans are greatly interested in are Philippine food products. In fact, just last 7-8 April 2016, we had a business delegation of seven (7) Korean food importers and retailers who visited the Philippines to source products. This delegation included some of the biggest food companies in Korea. The products they said were the most attractive for Korea were coconut products (coco sugar, coco water, coconut oil, desiccated coconut, etc.), fruit products such as mangoes as well as Kalamansi (which is the native Philippine lemon). Cacao, coffee, and other snack foods were also popular.
Other areas which show promise are high end homeware and furniture.
In terms of Korean products selling to the Philippines, because of the popularity of Korean culture and the Halyu wave, as well as the fact that Korea is our number one source of tourists, Korean food has become very popular in the Philippines. Korean cosmetics as well as fashion-related products are popular. Of course we cannot forget the electronics products such as mobile phones, TVs, computers, and other electronics, as well as automobiles such as Kia and Hyundai. Also on the industrial side we also buy a significant amount of chemicals (including petrochemicals) and minerals (including copper products) from Korea.

Q: Please introduce your Head of Government in detail, including major achievements.
A:
President Benigno S. Aquino III is the son of democracy icons Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino and former President Corazon Aquino. He served as Representative of the 2nd district of Tarlac Province from 1998-2007. In May 2007, he was elected to the Philippine Senate, where he brought about legislation anchored on the protection of human rights and honest and responsible government.
During President Aquino’s term, which is about to end in June 2016, the Philippines has undergone a radical transformation: From having a government that turned a blind eye on corrupt practices, to one that provides public service founded on the principles of transparency, accountability, and integrity; from being home to a citizenry clamoring for change, to nurturing a nation empowered and actively working together for greater opportunities for inclusive growth.
Under Tuwid na Daan (Straight Path) good governance platform, the Aquino government filed cases filed against officials accused of corruption, including a former president and three senators, while a former chief justice was impeached. Likewise 581 cases were filed against tax evaders and smugglers, who collectively owe the Filipino people billions of pesos in taxes.
With the increased revenues, the Philippines has managed to raise its infrastructure budget to 5 percent of GDP this year from 1.8 percent of GDP in 2010. Likewise, the rating agency cited the award of several infrastructure projects under the public private partnership (PPP) scheme worth $4.8 billion since 2010, making the Philippines one of the most active infrastructure markets in Southeast Asia.
President Aquino has done a lot to rebuild the world’s confidence in doing business in the Philippines. Indeed, during the first full five years of President Aquino’s administration, the Philippines averaged 6.2 percent economic growth, the highest five-year growth rate in nearly four decades. By contrast, average GDP growth in the country was 4.4 percent between 1999 and 2009. The Philippines was also recognized as the second fastest growing economy in 2015, next only to China, out of 57 countries surveyed by Bloomberg. In nominal terms, the Philippines is growing at least 10 percent year-on-year. Inflation has remained steady and real GDP per capita grew nearly 18 percent between 2010 and 2014.

Below are some of President Aquino’s other major achievements:
- The Philippines’ credit rating was upgraded by the three major credit rating agencies, Moody’s, Fitch’s, and Standard and Poor’s (S&P) to investment grade. In January 2016, the Philippines received its 24th positive rating under the Aquino administration when Seoul-based debt watcher NICE Investors Service upgraded the credit rating of the Philippines to BBB from BBB-, allowing the country to tightly secure a place within the investment-grade territory.
- According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), the competitiveness ranking of the Philippines jumped by 7 slots, from 52 in 2013-2014 to 59 in 2014-2015. The WEF state that the country’s gain of 33 places since 2010 is the largest over that period among all countries studied;
- Strong efforts toward social development through the conditional cash transfer (CCT) program that enables the poor to take advantage of economic opportunities, and social protection that will prevent them from falling deeper into poverty. Under the CCT program, cash grants are given to poor households with conditions that capacitate its workforce towards decent and productive work, promote access to affordable and quality health care, and empower the poor and marginalized to enhance their access to basic needs and opportunities;
- Access to affordable and quality health care. As of June 2015, PhilHealth coverage at the national level is 89.42 million or 88 percent of the 101.45 million 2015 projected population. This is almost double the 2010 coverage of 47.07 million or 51 percent of the 92.34 million 2010 population;
- The expansion of PhilHealth and the provision of more medical assistance and health enhancement facilities across the country was funded by implementation of the excise tax on “sin” products such as alcohol and tobacco;
- Enactment after a decade in legislative limbo of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012, a measure that provides Filipinos with the reproductive health information, services, and care necessary to planning and raising families in a responsible and safe manner;
- Implementation of the K-12 Basic Education program and increase in the budget, infrastructure, and other inputs, including additional teachers and textbooks, to address the needs of the Filipino students, and effectively raise the country’s basic education curriculum on par with international standards. The two additional years of basic education provides students sufficient time for mastery, and preparing graduates for tertiary education, mid-level skills development, employment, and entrepreneurship;
- In January 2012, the Philippines initiated an arbitration case against China under the UN Convention on the Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS) in an effort to continue protecting the Philippines’ national territory and boundaries;
- Enhanced the defense capabilities of the Philippine security forces as it shifts from internal to external defense capability;
- Passage of the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013, which recognizes the sacrifices of victims of human rights violations committed during the Marcos regime and acknowledges the State’s obligation to provide reparation to them and/or their families;
- Signing into law of the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012. The first of its kind in Asia, the law criminalizes enforced disappearances, institutes preventive measures, and provides a mechanism for reparation and redress.
- Expansion of the government’s capacity to combat trafficking in persons (TIP) through the signing of the Expanded Anti-TIP Act of 2012 (RA 10364), which criminalizes cases of attempted TIP, and removes the confidentiality protection previously extended to the accused;
- Raised the number of foreign visitors to the Philippines at an all-time high, with a total of 5.36 million in 2015, representing a 10.9 percent increase from 2014. South Korea was the biggest source market last year, providing 1.34 million visitors, followed by the United States with 779,217 visitors, and Japan at third spot with 495,662 visitors, then China, contributing 490,841 visitors, and Australia, with 241,187 arrivals. For 2015, the international visitor receipts also increased to 227.62 billion pesos (4.86 billion U.S. dollars), 5.92 percent higher than the 214.88 billion-pesos earnings in 2014.
- The Philippines established closer ties with its traditional and non-traditional partners, starting with the strategic partnership agreement signed with Japan in 2011 and elevated to a strengthened strategic partnership in 2015. In 2012, the Philippines ratified the Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOVFA) with Australia. This was followed by the signing in 2014 by the Philippines and United States of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) intended to bolster the U.S.-Philippine alliance.
Finally, at the sidelines of the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting in November 2015, the Philippines signed a joint strategic partnership agreement with Vietnam, and a comprehensive partnership with Australia.
- Successfully hosted the 2015 Asia-Pacific Economic Summit in Manila and the visit of Pope Francis.

Q: What is your view of Korea and the Korean people before and after your arrival here?
A:
Having lived in Hong Kong and served in our main policy office for Asia at the ministry back home, I was aware of Korea’s extraordinary transition toward democracy in the 1980s and early 1990s, as well as the economic miracle that propelled it from being one of the poorest nations in the 1950s to one of the richest now. With Korean pop culture making tremendous headway among Filipino consumers, I was also familiar with K-Pop and Korean dramas. It’s not possible to remain ignorant of Psy’s Gangnam Style, which is perhaps the most famous Korean cultural export of all time. I’ve also met many Koreans who live in the Philippines, some even in my own district.
Since arriving in Korea almost two years ago, I have been impressed by two things that are normally difficult to get right in combination: the warmth and hospitality of Koreans on the one hand, and the clockwork efficiency and attention to detail on the other. I have heard of Korea’s “ppali ppali” culture but I must say that more than just speed, Koreans generally have a scientific and systematic approach to everything.
These are qualities I believe we have to emulate from Koreans. There is so much to learn from this country and its ways of doing things. I also appreciate how Korea’s experience is relatively recent and thus appears to be more relatable as a point of reference for the Philippines on our ongoing efforts toward inclusive development.

Q: Please introduce yourself in detail.
A:
My name is Raul S. Hernandez, Ambassador of the Republic of the Philippines to the Republic of Korea. I arrived in Seoul on 28 May 2014 and presented my credentials to President Park Geun-hye on 8 August of the same year. The Republic of Korea is the first country where I have served as ambassador. Prior to this, I served for almost three years as Spokesperson of the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila, for which I was conferred the Presidential award, Gawad Mabini with a rank of Grand Cross (Dakilang Kamanong) by the President of the Philippines in July 2013.
Before joining the Department of Foreign Affairs in 1993, I worked with the private sector in the Philippines and Hong Kong. In the Home Office, I also served as Executive Director at the Office of American Affairs (April - July 2011), Director at the Office of Middle Eastern and African Affairs (October 2003 - October 2004), Acting Director at the Office of European Affairs (2001 - 2002), and Principal Assistant, then Assistant Director at the Office of Asian and Pacific Affairs (1994 - 1995).
As for my foreign assignments, I have been posted in Hong Kong (1995 - 1999), The Hague in the Netherlands (1999 - 2001), Vancouver in Canada (October 2004 - September 2008) and Xiamen in China (September 2008 - January 2011) where I served as Vice Consul, First Secretary, Deputy Consul General and Consul General, respectively.
I graduated from the Ateneo de Manila University with a Bachelor of Arts degree. In 2003, I finished a Masters in National Security Administration (MNSA) degree from the National Defense College of the Philippines. I took an MBA program at the Asia International Open University in Macau in 1992. I am also a graduate of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Command and General Staff Course and hold the rank of Colonel in the Reserve Forces of the Philippine Marines.
I am 58 years old, married and with two children. I play golf and basketball, and enjoy watching movies in my spare time.
My overall experiences have helped me in dealing with the demands of diplomacy and in how to engage our Filipino community here in Korea, which may not compare to vastly larger ones in Hong Kong, Singapore or countries in the Middle East, but does have significant layers of engagement with broader Korean society - a factor that determines public support for our mission among ordinary Koreans here.

Q: Please add whatever other details that we might have left out.
A:
Over the years, bilateral ties between the Philippines and South Korea have grown and flourished, blossoming not only at the state-to-state level but also taking root at the people-to-people level.
In the long term, the cooperation between the Republic of Philippines and the Republic of Korea in the political, security, economic, socio-cultural and development fields is expected to thrive as both parties strive to further strengthen relations for the benefit of both the Korean and Filipino peoples.

이경식 기자  edt@koreapost.com

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