MANILA - Vice Minister Chen Fengxiang of the International Department of the Communist Party of China (IDCPC) was visibly moved when he faced the all-women congressional delegation from the Philippines last May 15 in Beijing.
''I commend you for your courage to come here at this sensitive time. Now that you’re here, it fully shows your courage and sincerity to improve our bilateral relations," he said.
Led by Rep. Gina de Venecia (4th district, Pangasinan), president of the Association of Women Legislators Foundation Inc., a 12-woman delegation from the House of Representatives was in China from May 8 to 18, for a people-to-people exchange.
It was the first and only delegation from the Philippine government after the filing of an arbitration case in the UN despite China’s unequivocal refusal to subject the territorial row to international mediation. It also came three weeks after the Obama visit, viewed as the country’s counterweight to China.
In the meeting, Chen put forth the arbitration issue as the heart of the disagreement between the two countries.
“Our bilateral relation is low right now. Our relationship has become more complicated now that Philippines has taken confrontational stance on this issue by going to arbitration,” Chen said. “Now, you have closed the door for negotiation. The move to settle our dispute through arbitration, it will not help in the resolution of it all. It’s a great concern for us.”
In a statement, read by Rep. Rosenda Anne Ocampo, De Venecia cited the need to rebuild the bilateral ties of the two countries because their enduring relations go beyond the territorial dispute.
She then cited the strong bond of friendship between the two nations. “It is no secret that the Philippines was the first nation in the world that embraced the Chinese people, as evidenced by the establishment of the very first Chinatown in Binondo, Manila in 1594, where the Chinese people thrive to this day, not as strangers but as one of our own.”
“And just recently, despite the sometime hurtful words both our spokesmen have exchanged, China was among the first responders to save and help the victims of super typhoon Yolanda in central Philippines,” she said. “No Filipino could ever forget the kindness and generosity of China and your wonderful people.”
Rep. Gwendolyn Garcia also said “our countries can be likened to a house with shut windows, but the occupants’ hearts and minds remain open. We will always remain so. With open mind, we will extend our heart to make peace with brother China.”
After thanking the vice minister for the invitation, Ocampo praised the Communist Party of China for its commitment to peace. She said the Central Committee “has invited our delegation, which means that the IDCPC is firm in its stand that we need more bridges, and foster more people-to-people relations between China and the Philippines. When diplomacy fails, enduring friendship will save the day and take us on the next phase of our relationship.”
Chen said a solution can still be found. “There may be misconceptions, and I think that we can have exchange of ideas.”
In the end, both parties have decided to continue people-to-people dialogues and work for the improvement of the bilateral ties between the two countries.
“The dispute does not paint the whole picture of our relationship. Our party is eager to develop relations on a mutual benefit. So, more party-to party exchanges between the CPC and Philippine political parties. We are not closing our door and our stand is not confrontational. Let’s work together for the future of our nations,” said Chen.
The other members of the all-women delegation to China are Rep. Maria Lourdes Acosta-Alba (Bukidnon), Rep. Belma Cabilao (Zamboanga Sibugay), Rep. Mercedes Cagas (Davao del Sur), Rep. Julieta Cortuna (A Teacher partylist), Rep. Gwendolyn Garcia (Cebu), Rep. Elisa Kho (Masbate), Rep. Rosenda Ann Ocampo (Manila), Rep. Leah Paquiz (ANG NARS partylist), Rep. Marie Anne Pernes (Siquijor), Rep. Josephine Sato (Occidental Mindoro) and Rep. Julieta Uy (Misamis Oriental).
At the start of the meeting, Vice Minister Chen thanked De Venecia, who had to cut her visit short and rushed back to the Philippines because her mother, Azucena Vera Perez, was in critical condition. Unfortunately, she died two hours before the congresswoman’s plane landed in Manila.
“I feel sorry that she was in China and she wasn’t able to say farewell to her mother,” said the vice minister. “Before going to China, her mother was already in critical condition, but she was very determined to come. It is very touching to us. We hope, through you, we will overcome our difficulties.”
The 10-day visit took the delegates to the cities of Chongqing and Beijing and the historic province of Shandong. They learned China’s best practices in governance through their exchanges with women representatives of Chongqing Municipal People’s Congress and the officials of Chongqing and Shandong Foreign Affairs Office. They also studied the methods of the China’s Women Federation in implementing their micro-credit projects for the ‘left-behind” women and children, as well as China’s academic and urban housing programs.