Viet Nam-Philippines: A friendship across the South China Sea
On 17 November 2015, Vietnamse Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs Pham Binh Minh and Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Albert F. del Rosario signed a Joint Statement on the establishment of the Strategic Partnership, witnessed by President Truong Tan Sang and President Benigno Aquino III in Manila.
|Vietnamse Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs Pham Binh Minh and Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Albert F. del Rosario signed a Joint Statement on the establishment of the Strategic Partnership, witnessed by President Truong Tan Sang and President Benigno Aquino III in Manila in 2015. (Photo: VOV)|
My posting, as the Ambassador of Viet Nam to the Philippines started from January 2017, more than a year after the formation of the Strategic Partnership, and ended in December 2019. After leaving the Philippines, I continued my diplomatic life by serving as the Vietnamese Ambassador to Myanamr.
A friendship across the South China Sea
The Philippines and Viet Nam are two countries located across the South China Sea which share many similarities. The land area and population of the Philippines are quite similar to ours. The capital city of Manila is situated on nearly the same latitude as Da Nang (Manila is located at latitude 14o35’, while Da Nang is at latitude 15o). Both countries are located Southeast Asia and members of ASEAN.
The two countries share numerous common interests and aspiration to foster the friendly neighborliness, sincere friendship and practical cooperation. To that end, the two sides signed the Strategic Partnership aiming toward sustainable and long-term cooperation.
Yet, there also remain differences. The Philippines is an archipelagic country consisting of 7,641 islands, while our country is located on the mainland. Filipinos are hospitable people with a lifestyle that fuses Asian, Spanish and American cultures – vibrant, passionate, sociable, with a love of singing and dancing. But their diligence is not dissimilar to that of the Vietnamese people.
Like Viet Nam, the Philippines also has a great number of famous attractions listed among the World Heritage Sites. While we have Ha Long Bay, a famous UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Philippines has its own heritage site in Boracay, 315 km South of Manila. While the Philippines has famous islands located away from the archipelago, such as Batanes to the North, Viet Nam has Phu Quoc island to the South. Both Viet Nam and the Philippines have breathtakingly beautiful beaches.
I remember in 2012, CNN ranked Boracay among the top-ten most romantic destinations in the world. In 2017, as the ASEAN Chair and in celebration of ASEAN’s 50th anniversary, the Philippines extended an invitation to the ASEAN “family” to visit this world-famous attraction.
While accompanying Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs Pham Binh Minh and his spouse during the ASEAN Ministers’ Meeting (AMM50) in April 2017 in Boracay, I experienced a ride on a traditional fishermen’s motorized boat. While on board, I was able to observe the wonderful beauty of the renowned beach, with crystal clear blue waters and peaceful seaside scenery.
In a unique country like the Philippines, the Embassy staff is quite busy with citizen protection work. This is also the matter that has always attracted great attention from Leaders of the Party, the Government, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the public. Our Embassy has also viewed it a top priority.
The Embassy often works closely with Philippine competent authorities such as the Navy, the Fisheries Resources Surveillance and the Department of Foreign Affairs to safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of our fishermen who conduct fishing activities without permission in the Philippines’ territorial waters. We also collaborate closely with the Philippine counterparts in making necessary repatriation arrangements for our fellow fishermen.
|At the end of the year, the Embassy had resolved nearly all the cases of the abducted crewmen. In the photo: Ambassador Ly Quoc Tuan (third from left) with 5 crewmen before they were brought home from the Philippines on November 29, 2017.|
I still remember the days I first arrived in the Philippines to take up my post. It was around the time a group of 11 Vietnamese crewmen were taken captive by Abu Sayyaf off Southern Philippines. As we recall, this incident happened since the end of 2016.
2017 was a very busy year for us as we received many Vietnamese high-level delegations to attend ASEAN events organized by the host country – the ASEAN Chair. Despite the busy schedule, the Embassy and myself still tirelessly dedicated our time and efforts to rescue our crewmen.
Back then, every time we thought of the families of the 11 crewmen, who were waiting anxiously day and night for their loved ones to be freed and return home, we spared no efforts to seek a solution to the case. We seized every possible opportunity during the Vietnamese Leaders’ exchanges and contacts with the Philippines counterparts to remind them of our top concern.
|"It must be noted that the protection of the Vietnamese fishermen had received significant attention and assistance from Philippine authorities and relevant agencies" - Ambassador Ly Quoc Tuan.|
As the Ambassador, I myself actively worked with Philippine Secretaries, such as the Secretary of National Defense, the Chairman of the Joined Chiefs of the Armed Forces, the Chief of the Philippine National Police, the Anti-Terrorism Police, among others, on this matter throughout the year.
The Embassy also directed our consuls to stand ready to immediately respond whenever we received any information on the fates of the crewmen. A great number of diplomats were mobilized, including the Defense Attachés. Numerous meetings took place, even at midnight whenever there was information. Many options were proposed, and many trips to Mindanao in the South of the Philippines were organized in cooperation with the Philippine police and armed forces.
I still recall my anxiety every time a diplomat traveled down South, as there clashes between Philippine armed forces and the terrorists took place every day. We understood that going there was to step into danger, to the war zone.
At the end of the year, the Embassy had resolved nearly all the cases of the abducted crewmen. Half of them were successfully rescued. This result owes itself to the attention and the seamless cooperation between our Ministry and domestic agencies, the support and assistance of the Philippine armed forces, police, and competent authorities, the airline carriers, the tireless efforts of Embassy staff in Manila, and my own humble contributions.
It must be noted that the protection of the Vietnamese fishermen had received significant attention and assistance from Philippine authorities and relevant agencies. In November 2017, I was honored to join the Philippine President in send-off ceremony for these Vietnamese crewmen.
In June 2019, the Vietnamese fishermen rescued 22 Filipino fishermen of the GEM VIR1.This vessel collided with a foreign one and sunk off Reed Bank. This rescue has gained the great appreciation of the people of the Philippines, thus deepening their sentiments toward Viet Nam.
|The Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte took photo with staff of the Embassy of Viet Nam in the Philippines after the credential presentation ceremony of Ambassador Ly Quoc Tuan.|
It all begins with a business card…
Before assuming my post, I had 5,000 business cards printed for work purposes, particularly for meetings and exchanges with partners.
In fact, by the time my tenure was over, I had no cards left!
Through three years’ worth of meetings and exchanges, which “all began with a business card”, I have met many Filipino friends with gracious sentiments towards Viet Nam.
First and foremost, His Excellency Albert F. de Rosario, the Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines from 2011 to 2016. I first met him in early 2017. He was nearing 80 at the time, but remained active in social activities. He had the clear mind, the composure and vast experience of an eminent diplomat, and held deep sentiments toward Viet Nam. The former Secretary of Foreign Affairs and his spouse still stay in touch with Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh and his spouse.
In 2017, I was asked by Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs Pham Binh Minh to present his gift – a precious painting- to Mr. del Rosario. Nearing the end of my tenure, I paid a farewell call on Mr. del Rosario and his spouse. With his gracious feelings toward Viet Nam, Mr. del Rosario wished me further success in my work and told me to, “give [his] best wishes to Minister Minh!”, an affectionate way that the former Secretary of Foreign Affairs addressed Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs Pham Binh Minh.
Another treasured friend of Viet Nam is Associate Justice Antonio Carpo, one of the most distinguished, longest-serving Justices at the Supreme Court of the Philippines. He possesses great legal knowledge and much like Mr. del Rosario, holds warm sentitments towards Viet Nam. With the active cooperation from our Embassy, in 2008, the Asssociate Judge held a lecture at the Diplomatic Academy of Viet Nam.
They are only two among many Filipino friends who hold warm sentiments toward Viet Nam. Thanks to these sentiments, I have felt a closer bond with the Philippines, and am proud to contribute a small part to the development of our two countries’ relations.