PHILIPPINE Ambassador to Brunei Darussalam, Nestor Z Ochoa, who will finish his tour of duty in Brunei soon, has lauded the excellent bilateral ties between the two countries.
Having served in Brunei for nearly four years, the ambassador said he will miss the honour of interacting with His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam and other members of the royal family. Following is the interview:
Q: How many years have Your Excellency stayed in Brunei Darussalam?
A: First of all, I thank His Majesty, the Brunei Government, and the people of Brunei Darussalam for the warm hospitality accorded to me since my arrival on March 25, 2011. I have served as the Philippine Ambassador to Brunei for almost four years, helping build more bridges of friendship and understanding between the Filipino and Bruneian peoples.
Q: What was the trade volume between Brunei and the Philippines last year and how can both countries further boost the bilateral relationship?
A: As per data from our Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), total trade between the Philippines and Brunei Darussalam from January to October 2014 was valued at US$84 million (83,625,952), with Philippine exports amounting to US$8 million (7,945,032), and imports from Brunei Darussalam amounting to US$76 million (75,680,920). I am confident that this figure will continue to increase as both countries explore vast possibilities for cooperation in the areas of agriculture and food security, energy, health, shipping and ports, tourism, and sports.
Q: With quite a number of Filipinos working as domestic helpers in Brunei Darussalam, is there any discussion with the Brunei’s government in boosting the welfare of Filipinos workers?
A: As of June 2014, there are an estimated 22,246 Filipinos based in Brunei Darussalam. 24 per cent of this figure are household service workers (eg domestic helpers, family drivers, and gardeners). In July 2013, the Philippine Government, through the embassy, forwarded to the Brunei Government’s Ministry of Home Affairs the proposed Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) on Labour Cooperation between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the Government of Brunei Darussalam. The said MoA aims to support cooperation and enhance coordination in the field of labour employment, labour market information, and human resource development between the Philippines and Brunei. We will again follow up the status of the proposed MoA with the Ministry of Home Affairs.
Q: On defence cooperation, Brunei army personnel are involved in the ongoing Mindanao peace keeping mission. How is the Philippines-Brunei military collaboration?
A: Since 2004, Brunei Darussalam has been an active participant to the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team (IMT) in Mindanao that facilitates and assists in the peace process between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). A total of 15 Brunei personnel consisting of 13 military and 2 police (RBPF) officers serve annually as IMT peace monitors in the Philippines. The Philippines and Royal Brunei Armed Forces are currently enjoying a harmonious and cooperative partnership within the bilateral and Asean frameworks. People-to-people exchanges, skills development, and military competitions such as the 11th Brunei International Skill-at-Arms Meet (BISAM) recently held last month (January 20-31) participated by a delegation from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), were some of the collaborative engagements involving the Philippines and Brunei defence forces.
Q: Is there any funny incident that Your Excellency can recall while in Brunei that you will miss most about after you return to the Philippines?
A: Well, one funny incident could be when one time, my wife Mayie and I were made to choose our preferred seats at a movie house here in Brunei. Once inside, we found out that we were the only ones watching the entire length of the movie. It is really difficult to mention just one thing about what I will really miss about Brunei. I will surely miss the honour of interacting with His Majesty and the other members of the royal family. I will also miss the warm hospitality of the people of Brunei, as well as the generosity of the members of the Filipino and diplomatic communities. Lastly, I will always remember the happy and hardworking men and women of the Philippine Embassy here in Brunei.
Q: Any message for the Filipino community and friends in Brunei Darussalam?
A: We are proud of our 22,000-strong Filipino workers in Brunei Darussalam. Through their hard work, dedication, loyalty, and positive work ethic, they have contributed to our country’s development as much as to Brunei’s. We thank Brunei for providing them an environment where they are valued and are able to make a difference. We hope that the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) in Brunei establish and promote the highest standards of ethical conduct and professional excellence in the delivery of their services.
We are optimistic that our OFWs will also cooperate and coordinate with other allied professions, trade, and industry sectors in Brunei Darussalam, and actively participate in matters concerning national and regional development of the Philippines. Filipinos in Brunei and those who are planning to work in the country can count on the Philippine Embassy’s support for programs and activities that promote the professional and personal development of overseas Filipinos in Brunei Darussalam.