Liberté, égalité, fraternité. Liberty, equality, fraternity.
These were the democratic values that gave rise to the modern French Republic when revolutionaries lit the first sparks of the French Revolution on July 14, 1789. Disenchanted with a political system which essentially could not acknowledge the needs of the many, the people of Paris stormed the royal prison fortress called the Bastille, tearing down a symbol of the Ancien Régime.
Every 14th of July, France commemorates this chapter in history as its national day, which we call Bastille Day or 14 Juillet. It is usually celebrated with a grand military parade in the presence of the French President along the Champs-Élysées, Firemen’s Balls where people are invited to dance and enjoy music at fire stations, and fantastic firework displays at the Eiffel Tower and in cities across France.
Alongside these festivities, the French National Day is an occasion to look back on the values that inspired the French Revolution over 200 years ago, and which continue today to be at the heart of France’s actions locally and internationally – including in its relations with the Philippines. In fact, a full agenda is expected in the coming months as we celebrate the 75th anniversary of French-Philippine diplomatic ties on June 26, 2022.
While several countries continue to be severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, France has joined Team Europe in order to ensure that no country is left behind. France was among the founders and leading funders of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A), which ensures that testing kits, treatments, and vaccines are accessible to countries that need them most.
Recognizing that vaccines are a public good, France has also committed to donating 30 million vaccine doses in 2021, in addition to a 600-million euro donation, to the COVAX Facility, of which the Philippines is a beneficiary.
Beyond the health policy aspect, post-pandemic economic recovery remains a challenge for all. During the 9th France-Philippines Joint Economic Committee meeting last July 9, our two countries affirmed the importance of deepening bilateral trade and investment ties in order to contribute to the recovery of our two economies.
More and more French companies are expressing their interest to invest in the Philippines, particularly in the areas of agriculture, aeronautics and space cooperation, green transport and infrastructure, energy, and maritime cooperation.
The global health crisis has put all our institutions to the test, but we can consider this as an opportunity for us to build a more sustainable future. France has been among the leaders in the fight against climate change, and is pleased to count the Philippines as a strong partner.
It was during the historic first visit of a French head of state to the Philippines in 2015 that the Manila Call to Action on Climate Change was made, rallying international support for the conclusion of a legally binding agreement to protect the climate.
Linkages formed between French and Philippine academic institutions are also paving the way for more French and Filipino scientists and researchers to work together to put forward sustainable solutions to address global warming.
Moreover, and in keeping with its longstanding attachment to liberty and equality, France is deeply concerned about the wellbeing and autonomy of women and girls throughout the world. It is particularly proud to have hosted earlier this month the culmination of the Generation Equality Forum, a global meeting organized by UN Women which associated governments, civil society, and the private sector, including the Philippines, to produce a Global Acceleration Plan outlining swift, concrete, and inter-generational actions in order to achieve true gender equality by 2030.
France is also keen to act on the world stage in order to promote fraternity and peace between nations. With this in mind, it fully supports a free and open Indo-Pacific area. Maritime security, the freedom of navigation, and respect for national maritime spaces are fundamental principles in ensuring regional stability. As a Permanent Member and current President of the United Nations Security Council, and within the framework of its Indo-Pacific Strategy, France will do its part to ensure that international law, particularly the UNCLOS, and the sovereignty of its regional partners are respected.
Finally, our two countries clearly have much to learn from each other. This is why people-to-people exchanges and cultural cooperation will remain a priority in France’s actions in the Philippines.
We see increasing numbers of Filipinos learning French or leaving the Philippines to pursue their studies in French universities in order for them to return home years later to apply their learnings and experiences. The French Embassy and the Alliance française in Manila and in Cebu have also been organizing online classes and virtual cultural activities throughout the pandemic, but we of course look forward to the lifting of quarantine measures soon so that we can once again organize much awaited cultural events such as our monthly Cultural Thursdays, the French Film Festival, and the Fête de la Musique.
Although France and the Philippines do not share a common history and find themselves on separate ends of the world, the birth of both our republics is rooted in the same universal, democratic values of libérté, égalité, and fraternité. Today, we share our Bastille Day celebration with our Filipino friends as we set the path towards closer cooperation and a stronger friendship between France and the Philippines.
Michèle Boccoz is the Ambassador of France to the Philippines and to Micronesia.