• J. Eduardo Malaya

Philippines-Netherlands connections @ 70

The First Filipino Boat in Amsterdam. Photo Source: GMA News

2021 is an auspicious year for the Philippines and the Netherlands as it marks the 70th anniversary of the establishment of their diplomatic relations. Most Filipinos have long been familiar with Dutch products without much thought about their origin, such as buying Dove, Surf and other Unilever items or filling up for gasoline at Royal Dutch Shell stations.

Even at this time of pandemic when economic activities have slowed down, dredger vessels from the Royal Boskalis Westminster NV, one of the world’s leading dredging companies, are busy in the Manila Bay undertaking land reclamation and development for the new international airport being developed by the San Miguel Aerocity Inc. in Bulacan. As the second international gateway to Metro Manila, it will unlock further opportunities and boost growth north of the capital region.

Having been in The Hague for the last seven months, I have been surprised to learn of numerous connections between our two countries and peoples, many going a long way back. The cherished queso de bola that Filipino families cannot go without as part of Christmas noche buena fare turned out not to be Spanish but Edam cheese from the Netherlands.

Our devotion to the Our Lady of La Naval de Manila, which is enshrined at Quezon City’s Santo Domingo Church, arose from the anxieties over the forays in 1600 by a Dutch fleet under Olivier van Noort, who was in search of spices and conquests. Repulsed by Spanish and Filipino forces, van Noort managed to return to Rotterdam and when he did so, became the first Dutch to circumnavigate the world.

Rizal’s writing of the El Filibusterismo was influenced by his reading of the 1860 novel Max Havelaar by Eduard Douwes Dekker on the similarly oppressive colonial conditions in the then Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia. Dutch and Belgian priests and nuns came in at the turn of the 20th century when Spanish religious had to leave, and through the parishes and schools they ran, helped shape hearts and minds.

Bilateral relations at the present time are based on more practical foundations. The Netherlands has consistently been among the five top investor countries in the Philippines, and at $245 million in 2020, was the number one among the 28 European Union (EU) countries. Philippine exports to the Netherlands was $1.9 billion in 2020 and growing.

As countries with significant maritime interests, cooperation in the area of maritime sphere is robust, with some 22,000 Filipino seafarers onboard Dutch-flagged vessels that ply the waters of the world. Some 41,313 Dutch tourists visited and enjoyed our pristine beaches and shopping centers in 2019, and we would like to see them back once leisure travels normalize.

We are fortunate to have active collaborators in keeping business-to-business engagements strong. The Makati-based Dutch Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines has been proactive, serving not only as a valuable platform for collaboration and engagements with Philippine agencies and other companies but also in encouraging more Dutch companies to do business in the Philippines.

In mid-November, in cooperation with the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, they will conduct an investment seminar on opportunities in Davao. Its counterpart, the Philippine-Netherlands Business Council, has commenced planning of activities for the months ahead.

With refreshed outlook and to properly mark the 70-year milestone in relations, the Philippines and Netherlands got together in June 2021 for a Bilateral Consultation meeting, producing a joint work program with emphasis on cooperation in trade and investments, water management, maritime matters, agriculture and science and technology.

All these come timely with the issuance by the Netherlands in November 2020 of its “Indo-Pacific: Guidelines for strengthening Dutch and EU cooperation with partners in Asia,” which was followed in September this year by the European Union’s “Strategy for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.” These policy papers are clear signals for a significant, long-term and cooperative engagement with our region. The Philippines has a big role in this region-to-region interface as coincidentally it recently assumed the role of country coordinator of ASEAN-EU relations up to 2025.

Indeed, as the Netherlands and the EU have realized, the Indo-Pacific region has become the world’s strategic and economic center of gravity, with ASEAN in the middle of it.

It is with this outlook that the Philippine embassy, in partnership with the Ateneo de Manila University, the Netherlands embassy in Manila and the Foreign Service Institute, is hosting the webinar “Philippines-Netherlands Connections @70: Reconstructing History and Forging Ahead” on Nov. 9-10.

It will feature senior government officials, business leaders, historians and other distinguished personalities with the aim of assessing the relations and contributing to a roadmap to strengthen and scale up cooperation. The book “Crossroads,” a compendium of the bilateral agreements signed from 1946 up to the present, will also be launched during the webinar.

At around the time when Spanish-held Manila was wary of any sightings of Dutch ships, a different, more congenial interaction was taking place down south. Dutch VOC trading vessels from Ternate in the Moluccas came to trade with the Maguindanao sultanate in Cotabato. After sailing for five to seven days depending upon the winds, they would drop anchor in Morro Bay and be warmly received by Sultan Kudarat and his court. Accounts say that these arrangements lasted for two centuries during the reign of eight sultans. Indeed, mutually beneficial relations between our two peoples have gone for ages and have deep roots.

As we mark 70 years of diplomatic relations, we say proost! Mabuhay!


J. Eduardo Malaya is the Philippine Ambassador to the Netherlands.

This post was first published by PhilStar Global.

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