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How the Philippine ambassador in Mexico educated my daughter

My family’s recent visit to Mexico City was incidental, one that took many twists and turns. It has, nonetheless, proved to be providential.

See, my wife and I have one year left to enjoy the company of our only daughter before she studies college abroad. Yes, we will be empty nesters soon. While we are excited that our little girl will soon spread her wings, we also dread the thought of not having her around us anymore. That’s life. We have to learn to let go and let her find her place in the world. As for us, we must learn how it is to live as a single couple all over again.

We are fortunate that our kid has the smarts. She is in the International Baccalaureate program and doing quite well. This qualifies her to apply for scholarships in foreign universities.

As a family, we consider her selection of university and course as a major decision. We have spent many evenings talking about this at length. In the end, our daughter has narrowed down her choice to either Business and Economics or Foreign Relations. She is torn between the two – this is her (our) conundrum at the moment. We’ve also narrowed down her school choices to certain universities in Spain and Canada.

July and August are vacation months for her so we decided to visit her prospective universities in Vancouver since we already visited a few schools in Spain last year. The Canada trip was to be for two weeks but the university tours were only set for two days. In other words, we had a lot of time in our hands. We visit Vancouver almost every year so the thrill of discovery has somewhat dissipated. We wanted a new experience. Fortuitously, Mexican Ambassador Julio Camarena volunteered to arrange meetings for me with his colleagues from the Mexican Board of Investments (ProMexico). That was reason enough for us to chose Mexico as a side trip. So off we went.

I have always had a soft spot for Mexico. As a history buff, I have come to appreciate how Mexico has been nothing but a good ally to us. I will never forget how they voluntarily helped us in our fight for independence from Spain by sending arms, cash and sharing best practices with the Katipunan.

During the Japanese occupation, the Mexican government sent their Air Force Squadron to the Philippines to help us in our struggle for liberation. It was the only military unit ever sent abroad by the Mexican government. Such extension of favor and solidarity in our most critical conflicts is testament to true friendship among nations.

The Philippine Embassy in Mexico

Upon arriving in Mexico, we were met by Ruben de Jesus, the Protocol Officer of the Philippine Embassy. He was sent by our ambassador to Mexico, Eduardo Josè De Vega, who kindly granted us an audience during our visit, upon our request. My intention for the courtesy call was to assess (and report) how well the country was being represented by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

We met Ambassador De Vega at the Philippine Embassy, a modest office that occupies the ground floor of a building in the Cuauhtèmoc quarter, a good neighborhood near the central business district. I soon discovered that Ambassador De Vega was a schoolmate of mine at La Salle Greenhills, albeit from an older batch. He continued his studies at the University of the Philippines where he took up Political Science and Law, and then we went further to study International Relations at the Madrid Diplomatic Academy in Spain. He also has a Masters degree in National Security Administration. In terms of credentials, De Vega has it in spades.

As a career diplomat, he has worked as either consul or consul general in Tel Aviv, Mexico City, Washington and Barcelona. De Vega is well aware that one of his key result areas is to foster trade and bring in investments to the Philippines. This was what we talked about during our time together.

Our kababayans will be happy to know that our embassy in Mexico has been pulling its own weight. The Philippines has registered hefty trade surpluses with Mexico for successive years now. In 2014, trade between both nations amounted to $486.61 million for which the Philippines realized an impressive $336.5-million surplus. In 2015, trade increased to $545 million and again, a surplus of $353.61 was realized for the Philippines. Trends for 2016 appear consistent with previous years.

Mexico is a manufacturing powerhouse with electronics, appliances and automobiles forming the bulk of its manufactures. Our embassy has managed to penetrate the supply chains of these industries by having them source key components from the Philippines. Our top exports to Mexico consists of semiconductor devices, integrated circuits, electronic converters and wire harnesses.

Admittedly, trade between the Philippines and Mexico could still improve. We are barely scratching the surface of our trade potentials. As it stands, Mexico ranks 26th among our trading partners and 18th among our export markets. Indeed, there is a lot of work to be done, says Ambassador De Vega. This is why he has been going on an all out offensive to promote our agro industrial products, furniture and auto components. The ambassador spends much of his time as crusader for Philippine products. The fact that the Philippines has the distinction of being the Asia’s fastest growing economy is a boon to his efforts.

In terms of investments, Coca- Cola FEMSA of Mexico is among the Philippine’s largest foreign investor with committed investments of $2.3 billion until the year 2020. Other big ticket investors include Cementos Mexicanos (Cemex) with investments of $1.2 billion and Competitive Global Manufacturing with investments of $75 million. Other Mexican companies who have a footprint in the Philippines include Mabe Appliances, Kidzania (through ABS-CBN), Qualfon and Xcel Software Solutions.

Conversely, the Philippines has one big ticket in Mexico through ICTSI. In May 2015, ICTSI acquired Terminal Maritima de Tuxpan for $54.5 million. This has allowed ICTSI to operate one of Mexico’s major ports in Veracruz. This port is strategic as it is the nearest port to the capital city.

Ambassador De Vega is now facilitating the entry of other Filipino multinationals into Mexico including one involved property development and another involved in food processing and canning. A formal announcement will be made when things become official, says De Vega.

Another interesting project is that of Hans Sy of the SM Group. He has been working closely with our embassy to facilitate the shipment of an actual galleon and numerous artifacts relating to the galleon trade. These will be put on permanent exhibit in a dedicated museum at the Mall of Asia complex. Barring any complications, the museum should be opened by December.

Like me, Ambassador De Vega is a history buff, one particularly fascinated by Philippine Hispanic relations. His knowledge on the matter impressed me, as did his knowledge on the fine details of Philippine history not taken up in textbooks. All these come in handy as he pitches Philippine products and the country as an investment destination. Invoking our shared history is the cariño factor that usually bags the deal.

I left the meeting satisfied with how the embassy operated under De Vega’s baton. Judging from the diligence of the Ambassador and his consuls, Mikhal de Dios and Vichael Roaring, I am convinced that the embassy can hit the $1-billion mark in bilateral trade and $2-billion mark in investments before the term of President Duterte ends.

My daughter accompanied me and was present during the courtesy call. She listened to my entire conversation with the ambassador and his staff. She was less participative than she normally is, but I could tell she was absorbing it all. As we left the embassy, she whispered in my ear to say: “Dad, I made up my mind, I choose to major in International Relations. I want to serve my country in the way Ambassador De Vega does”. Just like that, our conundrum was resolved. The side trip was worth it.

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Andrew is an economist, political analyst, and businessman. He is a 20-year veteran in the hospitality and tourism industry. For comments and reactions, e-mail andrew_rs6@yahoo.com. More of his business updates are available via his Facebook page (Andrew J. Masigan). Follow Andrew on Twitter @aj_masigan.