How Long-Distance Relationship Works: A Case of Chile and the Philippines
"Miles apart, but close at heart.”
This best describes the relationship between Chile and the Philippines. With the vastness of the Pacific Ocean between, Chile is located 17,140 kilometers away from the Philippines making it one of the Philippines’ farthest diplomatic postings.
Chilean Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Giancarlo Mosciatti, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Jose Luis Montales and Apostolic Nuncio Gabriele Giordano Caccia share a toast to celebrate Chile National Day. Photo Source: Philstar.com
The Chile–Philippines diplomatic relations has been formally established in July 1946. Since then, the relationship between the two countries has only strengthened over time despite the geographical distance. In fact, this year the Chile–Philippines diplomatic relations will celebrate its 75th anniversary.
But how could the South American country build and develop a deeper connection with a country from Southeast Asia?
Chile–Philippines bilateral relations can be traced back as early as 1848 when Chile opened a consulate in Manila. The operation of the Chilean representation in Manila back then was primarily for commercial purposes. Specifically, to benefit the advantageous location of the then Spanish City. The Philippines was seen as the link to the Pacific, China, the rest of Asia, and Australia – places where Chilean products such as wheat could easily reach and be traded. Chilean currency had also been circulating in the Philippines for some time before its consulate in Manila was temporarily closed in 1866.
There are three major factors underlying a deeper connection that strengthened the relationship between Chile and the Philippines over time: shared cultural perspective, similar political experiences, and a common goal of institutionalizing international cooperation, especially in terms of disaster risk reduction and management and free trade.
Shared cultural perspective
Chile and the Philippines were both discovered by Ferdinand Magellan in the 16th century. Being former Spanish colonies, the two countries share the same colonial past. Their relationship is strengthened by common Hispanic culture, especially in terms of religion, traditions, and language. Catholicism, introduced by the Spaniards, became prevalent in both countries which heavily shaped their respective culture, values, orientations, and institutions in utter similarity.
It is also the Spanish colonization that first bridged the strategic situation of Chile and the Philippines. It emphasized the mutual dependence, rather than separation, of the two countries on the Pacific Ocean. The trade that was generated by the famous Manila Galleon connected both countries which at the time were the most distant possessions of the Bourbons.
Similar political experiences
Chile and the Philippines also share similar political experiences under dictatorship regimes. General Augusto Pinochet ruled Chile as a military dictator from 1973 to 1990, almost at the same time when Ferdinand Marcos put the Philippines under military rule from 1972 to 1986. Though the manner of how dictatorship was reached is different, both regimes were known to be brutal, bloody, and violent.
Nonetheless, both countries successfully overcame military rule before the 1990s. The similarity of political experiences stemming from the sudden loss of democracy to its sudden reappearance pushed both Chile and the Philippines to adopt a unified stance in strengthening and protecting democracy and the freedom of its people.
Even though the tradition of democratic politics has already reemerged, the Philippines’ democracy project, as with Chile’s, remains unfinished. There is still a need for both countries to continue working on constitutional reforms to be able to return to a mature democracy.
Common goal of institutionalizing international cooperation
One of the pillars of Chile’s foreign policy is the responsibility to cooperate in the promotion of international peace and progress. Chile is aware of the critical importance of foreign relations in the context of national economic and political strategies.
Chile developed an active presence in Southeast Asia (SEA), a region that demonstrates strong economic, political, and cultural attraction. The region has the world’s third-largest labor force contributing to its fast growth. It is also been said that if the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) were a single country, it would be the fifth-largest economy in the world. This highlights the growing role of the region and shows an opportunity for Chile to consider SEA, through ASEAN, as its new frontier in the Asia Pacific.
With the support of the Philippines, Chile was consequently granted the status of “Development Partner” by the ASEAN to help the organization in fostering and enhancing political dialogue, economic integration, and cooperation to support ASEAN’s community-building efforts. The Chile–Philippines relationship is in fact the oldest representation between a member of ASEAN and a country outside the region.
Chile and the Philippines are also both active members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in the promotion of free and open trade in the Asia Pacific region. While APEC does not initially consider membership from Latin America, Chile actively lobbied to join the forum since 74% of the country’s exports and 59% of its imports come from APEC member states.
On the other hand, there are also multiple bilateral agreements between Chile and the Philippines. The fact that both countries are situated in the Pacific Ring of Fire indicates similar geography-imposed hazards. The exchange of knowledge and experiences, the conduct of joint exercises, and the sharing of early warning information and public policies on disaster mitigation are needed and would be beneficial for the two countries. It is for this reason that an agreement for cooperation in disaster reduction and management was adopted. There is also an existing political consultation mechanism between the two countries to strengthen bilateral cooperation in the areas of energy, mining, internal revenues, trade, and social housing. The Philippines, through Energy Development Corp., had already invested and will continue in pushing ahead with geothermal development and expansion in Chile, not just as a foreign investor but also as a consultant and project manager – a step that will open opportunities for the realization of other initiatives strengthening future agreements and investments. A Memorandum of Understanding in the field of agriculture and aquaculture was also adopted. The Philippines had recently opened its market for the importation of Chilean pork and poultry meat. Though the signing of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the two countries is still on hold, it is a move expected to boost the economic relations of Chile and the Philippines.
The similarity of the experiences and lessons learned from the past, and the commitment to strengthen international cooperation are the primary reasons why the Chile–Philippine relationship thrived for 75 years despite the distance between the two countries. These are also same the reasons why it will continue to flourish and why there is a need to celebrate and highlight the importance of the ties between Chile and the Philippines. In the words of the current Philippine Ambassador to Chile, Ma. Teresita C. Daza: “75 years of diplomatic relations need to be highly celebrated. Just like in any relationship or marriage, 75th anniversary is truly a milestone.”
ARIANE S. BOBILLO is currently based in Santiago, Chile. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Political Science – Management at the University of the Philippines Visayas, Miagao, Iloilo.