MANILA, September 16, 2005
 (STAR) By Oscar M. Lopez (Co-Chairman Philippine-German Economic Council) (Closing remarks at the press conference to launch German Month held at the German Club Manila, in Makati City on Sept. 13, 2005.)

Our annual celebration of German Month is all about friendship – it is all about friendship between two people in two vastly different parts of the world, and one that has withstood the test of time.

Fifty years ago, on the 25th day of April 1955, to be specific, the Philippines signed a Protocol of Trade with Germany. But the relationship between our countries dates back to 1846 when the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg established a consulate in Manila, followed in 1849 by the Free and Hanseatic City of Bremen.

It is plan to see, business and trade relations laid the groundwork for political relations between our nations. The role of the business community is indeed important in fostering good relations between the Philippines and Germany. As chairman of the Philippine German Business Council, I remain hopeful of better things ahead.

German business and industry have been making significant inroads in the Philippines. In general, Filipinos associate German brands with high quality and service. Just go out and look at the streets of Metro Manila and the strong presence of the German automotive industry is immediately felt. German pharmaceutical companies are among the largest in the country. We are also very appreciative of German investments here that brought not just capital but technology as well.

Perhaps as a sign of even better times to come in Philippine-German business relations, the long festering problem related to Fraport’s investment in the still to be opened international airport in Pasay City called NAIA 3, will hopefully be over. We have confirmed from Fraport that they have indeed reached agreement to transfer their rights to the venture to a Filipino group for $200 million. While no money has yet changed hands and there is still no assurance that the airport will open soon, we take comfort that a major German investor at least found a solution to its problem it could live with.

Many lessons have been learned by everyone in this most unfortunate venture but it is my hope that the experience will not discourage major investments from Germany to this country. In fact the final solution to the NAIA 3 problem may now encourage German investors to come into the country. And if there is any service that the Philippine German Economic Council can provide to future German investors, it will probably be assistance in evaluating potential local partners.

In any case, Philippine-German business relations in terms of two way trade, had also been better than ever. Philippine Ambassador Delia Albert said that Germany is now our largest export market in Europe and she sees even greater potential for growth. Perhaps, we can call on those who have long years of experience in exporting garments to Europe like Claus Sudhoff, to work with Ambassador Albert in exploring how we can exploit the opportunity opened by the recent imposition of a quota in the entry of Chinese made garments to Europe.

Then, there are other local products with very interesting potentials in Germany. We have recently learned about the encouraging lift that our abaca industry received from the luxury car manufacturer, Mercedes Benz. The leading German car company will use our abaca fibers as one of the raw materials used in the manufacture of their luxury vehicles, as part of their effort to increase the level of biodegradable components in their car models. Perhaps, other German luxury car makers from BMW to Volkswagen can use abaca as well.

I am very confident about the future of Philipine-German ties because even though our cultures may seem worlds apart, I suspect a strong spiritual bond ties Germans and Filipinos. I find it significant that our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal found refuge and inspiration in Germany that enabled him to articulate our people’s budding thoughts of freedom. Dr. Rizal spent a total of 15 months studying and traveling throughout Germany from February 1886 to May 1887. He took advanced ophthalmology courses in the University of Heidelberg for six months, he lived in Leipzig for three months, and lived another six months in Berlin, where he finally finished the manuscript of his famous novel, ‘Noli Me Tangere’ and had 2,000 copies printed in Berlin in March 1887.

In that period of time, he also got to know many German scholars who had visited and written articles and books about the Philippines. In effect Rizal’s stay in Germany represents a high point in the people-to-people relationship between Germany and the Philippines in the past century. which overshadows the fairly recent formal relationship, which is nevertheless all of 50 years now.

It is also heartening to know that our new German Ambassador Dr. Axel Weishaupt, is a linguist who is at home in seven languages and is working on his 8th language, our own Pilipino.

In fact when he awarded me the German Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit last June – the first time a Filipino businessman has received such an award, by the way – the peroration of his speech was in perfect Pilipino and his diction was close to flawless.

Another project the good Ambassador is working on now is a new translation of Dr. Jose Rizal’s "Ultimo Adios" from Spanish to German. He feels the two previous translations did not do justice to the original.

Today, I want to express my optimism about the future of Philippine-German relations, particularly in business. The Lopez Group joins the German Embassy and the local German community in celebrating German Month. We hope to focus on the aspects of our relationship that today constitute the solid foundation of our enduring ties. Germany, after all, is more than what most people think. I am confident that as we celebrate the golden years of Philippine German relations, the best years are yet to come.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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