The Foreign Service Institute, in collaboration with the Insperon Consulting Group, organized a Mangrove Forum on India and the Philippines: Enhancing Bilateral Ties, Cooperating towards Regional Security and Progress held on 20 October 2016 at the Bulwagang Apolinario Mabini, DFA. The forum discussed India’s Act East Policy and opportunities for the Philippines and the ASEAN, and India’s contribution and role in the South China Sea issue.
Bilateral relations between the Philippines and India commenced in 1952 but the relationship took a rather slow development due to foreign policy differences. When the United States introduced its Pivot to Asia initiative, India replaced its previous Look East Policy with Act East Policy to highlight a more proactive role in the ASEAN. His Excellency L.D. Ralte, India’s Ambassador to the Philippines, mentioned in his opening statement the need to adopt this new foreign policy as “70 percent of our trade goes through the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea; therefore, it is of utmost importance that we have access to our routes as we need to get our goods out and our goods in.”
In the first session, former Ambassador Laura del Rosario discussed the many opportunities for the Philippines in line with India’s new foreign policy. There is a great opportunity to cooperate in the areas of technology, tourism and medical studies, especially since both countries have internet-based economies. As both countries share democratic principles, a security alliance may also prove to be beneficial amidst current regional dynamics. Assessing bilateral relations in the context of a weak global trade,
Professor Prabir De, ASEAN-India Centre Coordinator, put forward the need to strengthen relations between India and the Philippines by liberalizing visa for skilled labor, establishing direct flights, cooperating in banking and finance, strengthening tourism and IT-BPO industries, creating a bilateral service trade agreement, and setting up Indian/Philippine study centers.
For the second session, India’s economic and strategic interests in the South China Sea (SCS) were examined. DFA Maritime and Ocean Affairs Acting Director Edwin Mendoza discussed the importance of the SCS to India’s Act East Policy, especially in cultivating economic relations to bolster its standing as a regional power. Meanwhile, India’s National Maritime Foundation Director Dr. Vijay Sakhuja remarked that challenges on freedom of navigation in the SCS are not entirely new and have been a recurring feature for decades. Both speakers agreed that the Philippines and India can engage in maritime cooperation in addressing traditional and non-traditional threats in the SCS.
At the end of the forum, FSI Director-General Claro Cristobal expressed his gratitude to the speakers for providing avenues that could be pursued in the search for opportunities that would benefit both the Philippines and India.
The forum was attended by officials and staff of the DFA and the FSI, representatives from government agencies, and members of the diplomatic corps and the academe.