Privilege Speech of Sen. Nene Pimentel at the Senate on November 9, 2009

A good neighbor in the words of an old Chinese saw is better than an absent brother.


Today, I rise to speak about a good neighbor. A neighbor that showed the attributes of good-neighborliness to us not only in words but in deeds and not only in times of bliss but especially in times of distress.


I speak of that neighbor with whom we should deal as a nation equal to us - hopefully without antagonizing anyone.




I speak of Taiwan which by destiny is located right at our northern borders across a narrow sea. So near that when a cock crows in the islet of Yami, Batanes, a cock in one of those islets at the southernmost tip of Taiwan crows back in response. And they apparently understand one another without need of any interpreter.


That is how close our countries are to one another.


I suggest that we are bound to one another like two major branches of the same tree that grows in South East Asia.


As such, breaking off one main branch from the tree will certainly disfigure the tree or even cause it to wither and die.


And such a thing is not called for under the circumstances.

Friendly neighbor


When I speak of Taiwan as a friendly neighbor, I can think back decades ago when literally hundreds of our bureaucrats were welcome to study the cooperatives and the land reform program that served as the backdrop of the modernization of the country today.


I can also think of the hundreds of our bureaucrats who went to Taiwan to study the country's highly successful and competitive aqua-culture industry.


Unused knowledge


Incidentally, I must with much sadness record that I hardly see any learning those bureaucrats had received from Taiwan that are put into practice in our country today.


But unlike my personal discontent at the inability of our government bureaucrats to make use of the store of knowledge they had acquired from Taiwan, the Taiwan authorities continue to welcome our people, particularly, our workers into their country.


80 thousand


In my visit to Taiwan last month, I was told by their officials that there are at least 80,000 Filipino workers in factories spread all over the island. And some nurses and caregivers. But they are all treated as local workers. That means they get the same pay for equal work. The laws of Taiwan allow no discrimination of any kind against them.


That there are those many Filipino workers in Taiwan today and that they are well treated are facts that our Manila Economic and Cultural Office representative Antonio Basilio confirmed to me.


A few years ago, we have forged an agreement with Taiwan for its experts to install 15 modern weather forecasting stations in many parts of the country. These stations will help our people prepare for storms, hurricanes, typhoons, cyclones and other weather-related calamity. I understand that the agreement is now being implemented.


Still more recently, Taiwan again demonstrated its generosity to our people.


Vicious typhoons


Immediately after the vicious typhoons with deceptively gentle names "Ondoy" and "Pepeng" devastated our land, Taiwan was immediately at hand bringing relief goods, medicines and funds.


Incidentally, the two were probably the most ferocious typhoon twins that wrought incomparable havoc on our people in past times and recent memory.


Two ways


There are two ways of looking at the typhoons and their effects. One, negatively. The other, positively.


Negatively, if all we can see were the loss in terms of lives and the damage in the infrastructures of the nation.


Positively, if we can also see the spontaneous acts of goodness and generosity provided by our fellow citizens and the gracious help offered by friends from other lands.


There is no question that there is much for our people to be disgusted at the way the government failed to warn them adequately of the incoming disasters and for the failure of the government to make available speedy relief to those who were hit badly by the typhoons.


First to help


Still, there is something for us as a people to be thankful for in the wake of the recent calamitous events.


We have shown that as a people we do care for one another by concrete acts that were probably evoked by the catastrophe that hit us. Whatever be the case, the thing is that the first individuals who succored the victims were our own kith and kin.


As individual citizens, we really could not cope with so much devastation. But that we tried to do what we could speaks volumes of our character as a people.


Others too


Then countries friendly to us helped in the rescue and relief efforts. Many gave hefty amounts: the US, the EU, Japan, the Vatican, China, Australia and other nations.


To my pleasant surprise, Taiwan gave our people more assistance than others. This is not to belittle what other countries had done to help us. We are thankful that they did help us with whatever they could afford.


I only wish to put on record that Taiwan, a nation with whom we do not have a diplomatic relationship, was quite likely among the highest contributors to alleviate the plight of our people wrought by Ondoy and Pepeng and probably the first among the foreign friendly countries to do so.


Taiwan, through the DSWD gave US$50,000 on September 30, 2009 the day after the first typhoon hit us.

Later, it coursed another E10,000 through the Vatican's Pontifical Council, Cor Unum, to our Embassy in Rome for the typhoon victims.


Not only that.




Taiwan also sent 40 tons of relief goods - through two C130s - donated by the Fo Guang Shan Monastery on October 12 and 26 respectively, worth NT$6 million, for the victims of the typhoons.


Then it sent an IHA 6-member medical team with medical supplies and medicines worth almost a million pesos that dealt with the  medical needs of 1,200  victims in Metro- Manila for ten days starting from October 5 to 15.


Moreover, NGOs from the island also came into the picture. Some 26 members of the Taiwan Root Medical Peace Corps conducted a humanitarian mission in Metro-Manila on October 4-11 that serviced 2,786 people. At the end of their mission, another medical group coming from the Taiwan Association (Philippines) gave free medical care to some 5200 residents of Paranaque Cit on October 11.


At what cost to us?


And what does Taiwan want from us in return? Nothing, except perhaps the gratitude that is expected of friends who are helped by friends.


Taiwan has no territorial ambitions. The 23 million people of Taiwan have no desire to colonize us or to dominate our lives. They are, in my opinion, content with what they have:  a working democratic government; a work ethic that keeps people productive; a policy against corruption that put an immediate past president of the country, his wife, his son and daughter-in-law in prison; a strategy to help other countries develop economically; a law and order civilian capacity to uphold the Rule of Law, and a military capability to defend themselves against hostile invaders.


I have had the privilege of speaking with officials of the Taiwan government. To mention a few, the Speaker of the Legislative Yuan, the Vice President and the chair of the Chinese International Economic Cooperation, who, I understand, helped conceptualize the Subic Bay economic development.


I did extend to them all our thanks for the kindness they had shown to us in our time of need. And to the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO), head envoy, Donald C.T. Lee and his hardworking staff who facilitated the delivery of their assistance to us, our gratitude.


That said, I gathered from our conversations that Taiwan indeed desires to improve our ties in many areas: economic, cultural, labor, educational, medical, touristic and other relationships. But, and this is a big but, not at the expense of our alienating the People's Republic China.


Happily, the relationship between Taiwan and mainland China has been improving by leaps and bounds since only a year ago. To date, Taiwan and China have entered into nine bilateral and one 'consensus' agreements.


The pacts deal with sundry matters such as;

     On June 14, 2008 in Beijing, China

     - Cross-Strait Agreement on Travel by Mainland Residents to Taiwan, and

     - Minutes of Talks on Cross-Strait Charter Flights;

     On November 4, 2008 in Taipei, Taiwan

-    Cross-Strait Postal Service Agreement;

-    Cross-Strait Sea Transport Agreement;

-    Cross-Strait Air Transport Agreement, and

-    Cross-Strait Food Safety Agreement


On April 26, 2009 in Nanjing, China -

-   Supplementary Agreement on Cross-Strait Air Transport;

-   Cross-Strait Financial Cooperation Agreement;

- Agreement on Joint Cross-Strait Crime-Fighting and Mutual Judicial Assistance, and

- Consensus on the Joint Promotion of Mainland Investment in Taiwan.


I was a witness to the thousands of mainland Chinese touring Taiwan two weeks ago when I was myself a guest of the Taiwan government, through the courtesy of TECO, Manila.


As equal


As these agreements indicate, Taiwan is being treated as an equal by China in all matters except perhaps on the issue of political sovereignty.


If that is the case, why should our government hesitate to enter into all sorts of cooperative agreements that will be of mutual benefit to us but without infringing upon the political sovereignty issue that might be too sensitive to handle at this point?

I remember the emissary of the government of Taiwan and his official entourage were welcome as visiting dignitaries in June, 2008 in Beijing.


Official exchanges


If China could give the officials of Taiwan official greetings why couldn't we do so also and in effect normalize our relationship with Taiwan to the extent that our two nations may have official exchanges?


I speak in this manner not only because I think that as a people we should express our gratitude to Taiwan for its generosity to us in happier times and especially in our time of adversity. There are also many things that our government can explore with Taiwan's assistance that will benefit our people. Specifically, I can think of professorial and student exchange programs in all fields of education, medicine, physics, engineering, internet technology, shipbuilding and clean power-generation.


These activities have nothing to do with political sovereignty.


They have everything to do with improving our relationship with Taiwan and in the process develop our capability to compete with the rapidly modernizing world.

Taiwan is our friend. China is also our friend. Both are our neighbors.


Taiwan is a democracy. China is apparently democratizing. And democracy to me is the most vital bond that should attract us to a nation.


To befriend one does not mean that we should antagonize the other.


We certainly can be friends to both.


No hostility


Our befriending of Taiwan as an equal should not be deemed an act of hostility to any other country.


From our end, we have supported Taiwan's bid for membership of the WHA. Some of us are supporting Taiwan's wish to be a member of the WHO.




Or if that is not possible, perhaps as an observer of the body. Who knows, we might be able to support the same aspiration of Taiwan to be a member or observer of the IPU. Or get it to be a dialogue participant in the affairs of ASEAN.


 Double Tax pact


There is one other thing that we can do to expand and enhance our economic ties with Taiwan. And that is to approve the Double Taxation Agreement between our two nations that remains to be ratified by us. If there is a stumbling block to its ratification as a treaty, maybe we can find a way to do approve it nonetheless as an agreement.


The UK, Australia, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Sweden have existing agreements on the matter with the Taiwan government- not as a political sovereign but as an entity running a particular territory.


If those countries that are several flight hours away from Taiwan find it beneficial to have an agreement dealing with double taxation, why should the Philippines, our country that is only an hour and forty-five minutes away by jet not have such a pact with Taiwan, a neighbor, an ally and a friend?


I respectfully submit these ideas to you, my dear colleagues, in the hope that if the saying is true that thought is father to action, then maybe we have not wasted our time discussing the need to bolster our ties with Taiwan.


Reality tomorrow


Who knows that what sounds improbable today may become a reality tomorrow - if not sooner.




And for as long as we espouse freedom, justice and peace for all - not domination, exploitation or war - I guess we can be friends with any people or country and in the process, advance the good of our citizens in this our beloved Republic.