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Atienza: Presidential visits: Then and now

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MY EARLY adult life revolved around government service, international relations and diplomacy. I joined the Department of Trade and Industry after college and focused on export trade. After marrying a government colleague, I then accompanied my husband on his overseas postings around Asean and Japan.

Naturally, presidential visits were part of the job. We were there when President Cory Aquino hosted an Asean Summit, and when President Fidel Ramos visited Japan. We were even in Brunei Darussalam when President Joseph Estrada missed his early morning appointment with Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah because he was apparently smashed from a midnight to dawn drinking bout with friends who flew in with him from Manila... or so they said.

But what I remember most about presidential visits were the fevered preparations and rigorous groundwork that needed to be done.

During President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent presidential visit to Russia, the private sector delegates were subjected to the same tight schedules and meticulous inspections. Then came more of the expected. At the business forum, representatives from both countries extolled each other’s virtues while expressing hope for expanded economic cooperation in the future.

With nostalgia, I recalled the times I myself had written near identical speeches for my first boss, then the undersecretary of Trade. The whole event seemed like a blast from my past. However, armed as I was with actual experience of presidential visits also made me more appreciative of what was new.

Most unexpectedly, it was the country itself that amazed me. Russia! A few decades ago, it was anathema to think of Russia as other than a menacing communist state with evil intentions of destroying world peace. “Sergei” and “Svetlana” were portrayed as Kalashnikov-bearing commandos.

In Russia, I met the real Sergei and Svetlana. Both of them were open-minded, peace-loving and friendly Russians who showed us around with great pride.

Indeed President Duterte’s independent foreign policy is making an impact. This same independent foreign policy has made trade with Russia and China not only possible, but has enabled ordinary Filipinos to make new friends in a globalized world. President Duterte, the “probinsiyano” whom many Liberals scoff at, is in fact more attuned to the ramifications of globalization than many of us are.

The list of Philippine export products was another eye-opener during this visit. Oh my! We produce components for the aerospace industry? What a far cry from the analog wristwatches we used to assemble. We are exporting Century Tuna to the land of pink salmon and Beluga caviar? What a delight to know!

That we offer “Fintech products” also caught my interest. What is that? It turns out that “fintech” is an abbreviation of “financial technology.” Coming from a country blessed with knowledge-based programmers and known to have produced infamous world computer hackers, it is no surprise that the Philippines can easily offer technology-related services for even the most sophisticated industries.

Just shows you how inspirational presidential visits can be!


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