SINCE the establishment of diplomatic relations with India in 1949, our two countries have signed a number of agreements spelling out cooperation in such areas as air services, culture, education, health, energy, tourism, agriculture, security and anti-terrorism.

Of note is an agreement which has paved the way for parallel importation of the four most commonly used medicines at a fraction of the price of branded drugs. This importation provided the medicine stock for thousands of Botika sa Barangay, thus helping bring down the cost of medicine for the poor even before the actual passage of the Cheaper Medicine Act in 2008.

We found out first hand about the cheap medicine and the cheap hospitalization in India. During the state visit of President Arroyo in India in 2007 (I was then Press Secretary), one of the Office of the Press Secretary (OPS) staffers covering the trip fell ill and had to be left behind in a New Delhi hospital. Expecting a huge medical bill after our staff’s weeklong stay in the hospital, we were pleasantly surprised when OPS received a bill roughly equivalent to only P30,000.

Aside from pharmaceuticals, we also import huge quantities of “carabeef”, which, I understand, is used as a principal ingredient in canned corned beef.

Unlike in my other previous foreign trips, I did not meet other Filipinos either in Mumbai or in New Delhi other than our own embassy officials. Nationwide, there are only 500 Filipinos in India.

The most prominent among Filipino expatriates are Dr. William Dar, a former Secretary of Agriculture, and Dr. Dindo Campilan. Dr. Dar is the Director General of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Hyderabad while Dr. Campilan heads the South Asia office of the International Potato Center.

Edith Khorakiwala is married to Taizoon Khorakiwala. They reside in Mumbai and are involved in various businesses, principally in the bakery/confectionery sector.

Augusto Cabrera is the Sushi Chef at the 360 Restaurant of Oberoi Hotel in New Delhi. Among his celebrity guests was President Arroyo when she stayed at Oberoi during her state visit to India in 2007.

What are some of the problems that our kababayans face?

Filipinos in India, specifically those who work in households, find it difficult to send their money to the Philippines in view of the strict rules of the Reserved Bank of India (RBI) on outbound fund transfers. This has led Filipinos to resort to “padala” – asking friends and acquaintances to physically bring their hard earned money to their relatives in the Philippines. “Padala” has many dangers not only for the one sending the money, but also for the informal courier himself.

Also, embassy officials have expressed worries about involvement of nationals in illegal drugs. Filipinos are increasingly being targeted by groups, mostly of African origin, as couriers for drug trafficking.

At least five Filipinos have been apprehended and are now facing long prison terms for alleged drug trafficking.

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