Manila-Madrid connection gets better through time

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Story & photo by Recto Mercene

THE Spanish Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines, La Cámara, invited some of the country’s leading businessmen and their Spanish counterparts to celebrate Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day on June 23 in Bonifacio Global City.

In Photo: Moreno, with Makati businessman and Makati Business Club Executive Director Guillermo Luz

La Cámara President Francisco Moreno said the annual event is meant to commemorate the long history between Manila and Madrid, which could be traced back half-a-millennium ago.

Among the distinguished guests, Spain’s Ambassador to the Philippines Luis Antonio Calvo Castaño noted: “Growth of exports from the Philippines to Spain has been a little sluggish, but hopefully, it would be revived by the implementation of the GSP+.”

The Generalized System of Preferences, or GSP, is a preferential tariff system providing for a formal system of exemption from the more general rules of the World Trade Organization, formerly the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade or GATT.

Networking of guests during the Philippine-Spain Friendship Day

“It is a very promising sign when we negotiated the interim agreement with the European Union [EU]. Spain will play an extremely important part of the agreement, capitalizing on the enormous potential”, the Spanish envoy averred.

“So I will say that we will stay; we will play our part, from the Embassy, to La Cámara and other Spanish companies, so we can carry out and promote our economic agenda to be at the level of our aspiration and do justice to our cause,” Castaño added.

On the other hand, Moreno said the Philippines and Spain’s connections in the past were highlighted by the Galleon Trade, which brought the two countries together by the exchange of goods and along with it, the swapping of each other’s cultures, including music, the love of the good life, fiesta celebrations, religious observances, languages “and many, many more.”

“We have a common history”, Moreno said, adding that La Cámara is promoting more trade and commerce, such as the export of wine, olive oil and many of Spain’s well-known produce.

Asked about the volume of their wine export, Moreno said in jest, “We drink many, many liters and we export many, many liters [of wine]; I think we drink more than we export”.

“I think Spanish wine has tremendous potential. We do not export as much as the French do, but the relation of price and quality is very good,” La Cámara president added.

According to Wikipedia, “Spain was the world’s biggest wine exporter in 2014, sending 22.8 million hectoliters [a hectoliter is equal to 100 liters or 133.3 bottles].”

Wine exports in 2015 reached record levels both in volume and value positioning as Spain became the global leader in wine exports, with important growth outside of the EU to North America and China, agricultural specialist Carmen Valverde said.

Meanwhile, US Embassy in Madrid’s Agricultural Attaché Rachel Bickford attested, “It is cheaper for the French to import the wine than to grow it themselves. The next biggest buyers after France were Germany, Portugal and Russia.”

“Historically, Italy, France, Spain and Portugal have wine traditions, as wine has been consumed for centuries before the Romans did. We are still big producers and exporters of wine,” Moreno noted.

At present, France is now the biggest buyer of Spanish wines, importing and bottling—often as French wine, 5.8 million hectoliters in 2014—40 percent more than the previous year.

From Manila, Moreno said Spain buys textiles, although “there’s an important agreement between the EU and the Philippines, with some tax exemptions from your country. [On the other hand,] tourism and imports from Europe are increasing year after year.”

Tourist attractions

MORENO has been posted in the Philippines for the last three years. Although he wants to see more of the country, his many commitments have prevented him from doing just that.

“Not as much as I wanted to. I have traveled to Mindanao, Bohol, Baguio and other parts of Luzon but yes, I wish I had more time to enjoy the landscape.”

Moreno is also the concurrent head of Obrascón Huarte Lain SA, a multinational construction and civil engineering company in Spain, as area director for Asia and the Pacific. The firm is based in Madrid and has just established a foothold in Manila recently.

Señor Moreno is proud that Spain has the most number of incoming tourists among European countries, much more than the inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula.

“This year, we are going to receive more than 75 million [tourists, compared to our population of about] 40 million to 45 million.”

Asked why so many tourists wanted to see Spain, he said: “[We are] like the Filipinos. We are very welcoming, we have nice beaches, and we like to see people from all over the world. [That is our brand of] hospitality.”

He added that most tourists venture to Southern Spain—in Andalucia and Valencia to be exact—because of the region’s sunny weather, as the northern part of the country could be very cold in May and June.

“Tourists frolic in the beaches and eat plenty of good food,” Moreno boasted.

Andalusia is a large autonomous region of hills, rivers and farmland bordering Spain’s southern coast. It was under Moorish rule from the 8th to 15th centuries, a legacy that shows in its architecture, including landmarks, such as the Alcázar castle in the capital city Seville, as well as Córdoba’s Mezquita Mosque-Cathedral and Granada’s Alhambra Palace.

It said Christians took over Granada, the last Muslim state, during the “Reconquista”. Alhambra Palace exceeded in anything beautiful and complex that the European architecture could manage at that time.

On the other hand, the port city of Valencia lies on Spain’s southeastern coast, where the Turia River meets the Mediterranean Sea. It is known for its City of Arts and Sciences, with futuristic structures, including a planetarium, an oceanarium and an interactive museum. The city also has several beaches, including some within Albufera Park, a wetlands reserve with a lake and walking trails, both places being described in Wikipedia.

“If you can only visit one region of Spain, go to Andalucia. Parts of this historic land were under Moorish rule for 700 years, a legacy evident from the architecture of its towns and cities where former mosques have been converted into churches and cathedrals. The region is home to the great cities of Seville, Granada and Cordoba, which should be on the ‘to do list’ of everyone visiting Spain. It is home to flamenco, bullfighting, sherry and tapas, everything that the outside world considers ‘typically Spanish’,” according to a tourist brochure.

Moreno, however, interjected that the center and northern sectors of Spain are also “very beautiful”.

“We have many beautiful cities, but more cultural tourists see the wine region and wineries, although the weather [there] is a bit colder.”

He is referring to the Catalonia region in northeastern Spain, known for lively beach resorts of Costa Brava as well as the Pyrenees Mountains.

Meanwhile, Barcelona, the regional capital, has a historic Gothic Quarter, La Rambla pedestrian mall, museums and several beaches. Antoni Gaudí’s distinctive modern art and architecture can be seen at the Sagrada Família Basilica and in the colorful outdoor mosaics of Park Güell.

National symbol: Bullfighting

THE topic suddenly turned to bullfighting, and this reporter asked whether it might eventually be banned because of opposition from animal lovers.

“That is a difficult question. You are confronting two megatrends: One is history, and bullfighting has been in Spain since who knows when. Of course, since prehistoric times, and that represents part of our culture.”

“The other megatrend is the respect for the animals. These two clash. What will happen, I have no idea,” as Moreno shrugged his shoulder.

(The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals [Peta] is vociferous in opposition to bullfighting, saying: “Animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment, or abuse in any other way.” In fact, the group quoted Pope Saint Pius V’s decree that “spectacles” such as bullfights are “removed from Christian piety and charity”.

He wished that “these cruel and base spectacles of the devil and not of man” be abolished and he forbade attendance at them under penalty of excommunication. Barcelona has declared itself “an anti-bullfighting city”, and 38 Catalan municipalities have followed its lead. According to Peta, the last bullring in Barcelona closed in 2006 because of poor attendance.)

Moreno, on the other hand, said aside from Spain, other countries also practice bullfighting, such as France, Portugal and Mexico, with the biggest bullfight ring in its capital called Plaza de Toros. The Spaniard said bullfights are held according to season, although there is “a yearlong affair, but the big season happens between May and June.”

He said he does not know how many bullfights a year are held across Spain, but volunteered that the bulls, trained only for the purpose of bullfighting, usually weigh from 650 to 700 pounds.

“Bullfighting is a symbol of Spain; I don’t think it will ever go away,” Moreno blurted.

Then he suddenly turned pensive: The unimaginable thought of banishing Spain’s iconic representation seems too great to contemplate.

“No, no, not the bulls!” He almost pleaded, while shaking his head.

Image Credits: Jimbo Albano, Courtesy of La Camara



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