The Foreign Service Institute held a Mabini Dialogue Series on Argentina and the Philippines in the 19th and 20th Century on 21 November 2017 at the Benedicto Room, Carlos P. Romulo Library, Department of Foreign Affairs, which was led by guest lecturer Mr. Ezequiel Ramoneda, the Academic Secretary of the Department of Asia and the Pacific, Institute of International Relations, National University of La Plata. Officials and staff of DFA and FSI and students from the Ateneo de Manila University attended the forum. The lecture sought to present a comprehensive view of the relations between the Philippines and Argentina from a historical standpoint.
Although official diplomatic relations were established almost 70 years ago, contacts between the two countries can be traced back to the early 16th century through the Manila-Acapulco Galleon trade route. Several port cities under the colonial rule of Spain across the Pacific Ocean became hubs of a network of maritime trade routes. While the most important route was between Manila and Acapulco in Mexico, the trade route extended to the Spanish colonial possessions in South America, including Buenos Aires.
Aside from commerce, the trade route facilitated cultural exchanges between the Philippines and Argentina. Both countries share common cultural traits, such as customs, language (Spanish) and religion (Catholicism). The trade route also promoted the movement of people.
Mr. Ramoneda revealed that while Argentine leaders were fighting for independence against Spain, they also viewed the importance of freeing the Philippines because of its strategic location. This is in order to circumvent a Spanish attempt of reconquering the newly independent countries in South America. However, due to a misunderstanding between Argentine leaders, the idea was never realized.
The foreign policy of Argentina after it gained independence was directed towards Spain and the United States of America and, by extension, to their colonies. After the Second World War, Argentina was one of the first countries to recognize the newly independent government of the Philippines and the other governments in Southeast Asia. Argentina viewed the Philippines as a strategic ally of the US in East Asia alongside its historical relations as part of the Spanish colonial rule.
The Philippines and Argentina established diplomatic relations in August 1948. Since then, there have been political-diplomatic initiatives in the form of high-level exchange visits and agreements on economic and trade cooperation as well as on promotion and reciprocal protection of investments. Argentina launched the National Committee on Asia-Pacific (CONAPAC) in 1992, which aimed to establish and strengthen further the ties between Argentina and the region. The Committee is based on tripartite participation by the Argentine government, academe, and business representatives.
Another venue for interaction is through the Forum for East Asia-Latin America Cooperation (FEALAC) with the objective to enhance regional economic cooperation and political dialogue. Mr. Ramoneda pointed out that only national governments participate in FEALAC. He suggested that FEALAC should follow the inclusivity of ASEAN and APEC in forging more comprehensive policies where inputs from the academe and business sector are also taken into account.
In recent years, Argentina has become more active in the Asia-Pacific region. It participated in the APEC Summit Meeting in Peru in 2016 as an observer. It also officially began the process of accession to ASEAN’s Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC), which was approved during the 50th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) in Manila in August 2017. This instrument will allow Argentina to further establish dialogue and exchanges with ASEAN as well as blaze new trails for cooperation. Argentina would be the third Latin American country to do so after Brazil and Chile in 2012 and 2016, respectively.
“This is an expression of interest of Argentina and Brazil towards Southeast Asia. It gives an opportunity for Argentina to enhance its foreign policy towards Southeast Asia because it opens opportunities for Argentina, Brazil, and MERCOSUR to have an observer status and eventually [as] dialogue partners in ASEAN meetings,” Mr. Ramoneda said.
In conclusion, Mr. Ramoneda commented that Argentina and the Philippines should push for a “broad intergovernmentalism with para-diplomacy” to consider inputs from other sectors (i.e. academe and business sector) in the formation of the foreign policy of both countries. He also suggested a feasibility study for a MERCOSUR-Philippines trade agreement before considering a wider agreement between Mercosur and ASEAN.