INTERVIEW/New Philippine representative sheds light on priorities in Taiwan

08/08/2021 09:17 PM
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MECO Vice Chairman and Resident Representative to Taiwan Gilbert Lauengco.
MECO Vice Chairman and Resident Representative to Taiwan Gilbert Lauengco.

Taipei, Aug. 8 (CNA) The newly installed Philippine representative to Taiwan has made promoting the welfare of Filipino workers and increasing cooperation between the two sides in trade and agriculture his top priorities.

"Primarily my main focus is to help the labor attache take care of the 150,000 Filipinos here, both their welfare and their safety," said in an interview with CNA on Sunday.

Lauengco, who has served as vice chairman of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) in Taipei since 2016, will continue in that role even after being appointed as the Philippines' resident representative to Taiwan on August 1.

He took over as representative from MECO Chairman Angelito Banayo.

MECO serves as the de facto Philippine embassy in Taiwan due to the absence of formal relations between the two countries.

Beyond the welfare of Filipino workers, Lauengco's other top goal is to expand trade between the two countries.

"We already have a working trade agreement. We're trying to expand on that," he said.

He is planning to invite more Taiwanese businessmen to invest in the Philippines and will offer incentives such as providing land, simplifying investment procedures, and streamlining the visa application process.

Agriculture cooperation is another priority.

"I've been all around Taiwan, and I've seen the depth and the level of technology in agriculture, your machinery, your cold storage technology, your vertical farms, everything," he said.

"So I'm trying to get those technologies to partner with Philippine technologies, so that we can assist the Philippines in so far as our agriculture industry is concerned," he said.

Among the projects Lauengco plans to carry out when the COVID-19 pandemic eases include sending Filipino students to Taiwan to learn agriculture skills, establishing more Taiwanese demonstration farms in the Philippines, and exchanging agricultural technical missions.

Asked whether MECO has had difficulties maintaining relations with Taiwan given the close ties between Manila and Beijing, Lauengco said President Rodrigo Duterte has given MECO leeway to handle ties with Taiwan.

He admitted, however, that "there are constraints" that transcend Taiwan and the Philippines and should be answered from a more global perspective, likely referring to the "one China" policy.

"We work with the same constraints as everybody else in the region," he said.

"But the (Philippine-Taiwan) relationship is there. The important ones -- friendship, economic, health. Those are things that will last even to the next generation," he said.

Lauengco, a lawyer, has served as a city administrator in the Philippines and as a special assistant to the administrator with the Philippines' National Food Authority in his political career.

Asked about his impression of Taiwan, Lauengco said Taiwan is a place where people are disciplined, friendly and hospitable.

"It's one of the best places you can think of being posted. It's peaceful. The weather is nice," he said. "Even if you're alone, you miss your family, it's a good place to live."

(By Chung Yu-chen and Emerson Lim)

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