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MANILA -- Both the Philippines and the Czech Republic trace the beginning of their diplomatic relationship to the friendship between Philippine national hero Jose Rizal and his best friend Ferdinand Blumentritt even as neither countries existed back in the 1800s when that friendship started.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario acknowledged this on the occasion of the visit of First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Karel Schwarzenberg of the Czech Republic. In 1887, Rizal visited Blumentritt in the city of Litomerice in Bohemia in the present day Czech Republic.
"The friendship between the two men served as the foundation of long-standing ties between our two countries that remain vibrant up to this day," del Rosario said Tuesday.
Schwarzenberg's visit comes at the "cusp" of the 40th anniversary of the formal establishment of bilateral relations between the two countries in 2013.
The two countries plan to sign more bilateral agreements, including those on trade and investments, tourism, defense, labor, and culture, del Rosario said.
He said the Philippines also wants to get more skilled Filipinos to work in the Czech Republic, which is seeking to expand its diplomatic ties with Asia.
The Philippines also accepted the latest Czech counter draft of the Agreement on Cooperation in the Fields of Culture, Education, Science and Sports, paving the way for its eventual signing.
This agreement calls for both countries to promote exchanges in the academic and professional levels, del Rosario said.
The Czech Republic is the Philippines’ 24th largest export market and the 8th biggest in Europe with bilateral trade amounting to $300 million from January to November last year.
"We, however, believe that this is well below the potential of both countries. There is a need to diversify the bilateral trade base from the traditional electronics sector into new areas," del Rosario said.
"Philippine companies could export for example processed food products and intermediate goods for manufacturing companies in the Czech Republic. Conversely, Czech companies could consider using the Philippines as a hub for trading in the Asia-Pacific region for Czech cars, crystals and other consumer products," he added.
Del Rosario said Czech investors should look at opportunities in finance, clean energy, and infrastructure, including air and land transport particularly those under the Philippine Public-Private Partnership (PPP) initiative.
Schwarzenberg, who worked with the late Velvet Revolution leader and Czech President Vaclav Havel, who died last December, also presonally received the country's condolence.
Like the late President Corazon Aquino, Havel, who had been a human rights advocate and playwright, facilitated the peaceful transformation of the then Czechoslovakia into what is now the Czech Republic.
Del Rosario thanked Schwarzenberg for Czech Republic's cash donation in the aftermath of tropical storm Sendong that devastated the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan.
He said he also discussed wtih Schwarzenberg the latest developments in Myanmar, the West Philippine Sea, and the situation in the Middle East.
"We also discussed our relations with the EU and on how we can help strengthen the work of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM). We agreed that the ASEM process complements our bilateral efforts to promote relations and cooperation between the Asian and European continents," del Rosario said.
"We agreed to work hand in hand with our partners in promoting human rights, global peace and stability, environmental protection and in the fight against poverty," he added.