I AM privileged to have been chosen as one of the traveling companions of Ambassador Harald Fries of Sweden in his three-day visit in Negros Occidental. He is accompanied by his wife Susan whose grandmother is a native of La Carlota City. Mayor Mark Golez of Silay sent his official representatives at the airport to meet the ambassador.
“You have a very nice airport in Silay. In my last visit, I landed at Bacolod airport… that was 25 years ago.” His courtesy call to Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr., led to a discussion on how to develop trade and investment relationship between Sweden and the Philippines. He would want that the highly developed manufacturing companies in his country could possibly have ties with the local suppliers here in Negros.
He is here in Negros to inform the local officials that Sweden has already reopened its embassy in Metro Manila. He made an open invitation to the governor to visit Sweden and see the possibilities on how Sweden and Negros could start trade, commerce, industry, and tourism ventures. Governor Marañon tells the ambassador the success story of Mambukal with the assistance of the Japanese, of our cyber center, organic farming, proposed shipbuilding endeavor, and his other programs embodied in Negros First.
The ambassador was curious to know how Negros deals with the insurgency problem, sugar industry concern, threat of the Maute group, war on drugs, and issues on federalism. The governor said, “Insurgency is related to poverty. We are giving our best to solve the economic problems. Our sugar industry is not so lucrative. Many of our sugar workers are working in construction companies, call centers, and some are even going abroad. We are now giving a second thought to mechanize farming. I hope that those in the government who are pushing for land reform program will understand that.”
The ambassador is so worried because of the presence of terrorists in some areas in the country. The governor assured him, “There are no terrorists in Negros. Our population is not so big and we can easily detect if there are terrorists. Our army and policemen are working hand in hand. We have a friendly Muslim community here in Bacolod City.”
The governor asked the ambassador on how the Swedish government treats the victims of illegal drugs. The ambassador responded “We put them to jail and later they are sent to our rehabilitation centers. We have good facilities in Sweden.” Governor Marañon replied, “We encourage the parents to solve the drug problem of their children in the family level first. The policy of the Duterte administration on ‘War on Drugs’ is explained in schools and the churches are requested to help.”
When asked on his personal view in federalism by the ambassador, the governor said, “With federalism, this country might be fragmented. Let us strengthen first the local government, give the due share of the local government units, and lessen the power of Imperial Manila. When everything is in place, we can start talking about federalism. We also hope to solve some of the problems in Mindanao.”
Ambassador Fries visited also Talisay City. Mayor Neil Lizares had a productive conversation with him. In Bacolod City, City Administrator John Orola took the place of Mayor Bing Leonardia (who is on official travel). John was accompanied by Edward Joseph Cuansing (secretary to the mayor). Both of them presented to the ambassador what Bacolod can do. In Silay City, City Administrator Ryan Montoro and Chief of Staff Leanie Galvez-Jison had a hearty conversation with the ambassador on topics about culture, sugar industry, organic farming, investment, food, tourism, peace and order. Mayor Mark Golez is on official travel.
In Victorias, Mayor Francis Palanca had colorful exchange of ideas with the ambassador on varied topics. Ambassador Fries had the opportunity to visit the unique Church of St. Joseph the Worker featuring the craggy face of Christ in psychedelic painting, Victorias Milling Company, the Chapel of Cartwheels, Hacienda Craft managed by Joey and Ina Gaston, Gary’s Punong Restaurant, Balay Negrense, Mon Hofileña’s Museum, Emma Lacson’s Kitchen, Mambukal Resort, Negros Showroom, The Ruins, Negros Volunteers for Change Headquarters (with Millie Kilayco), and San Sebastian Cathedral.
One interesting place visited was Kalipay Negrense Foundation in Bago City with its chairman, Anna Balcells. It has a good school from kindergarten to high school and an excellent program for the formation of abandoned and abused children. The teenager son of the ambassador (with his girlfriend) is there (on-the-job training) to share his piece of greater love and concern for the “recovered treasures.”
The ambassador of Sweden is in Negros not just for fun or for the experience. He is here to partake what mankind is doing to the world. This is the only world that we want to give to our grandchildren. I am thanking Mary Anne Dino for the wonderful coordination she made for the trip of the ambassador. Going to Sweden, anyone?