Philippine Ambassador Maria Theresa B. Dizon-De Vega [Photo by Lee Chung-woo]
As South Korea and the Philippines mark 75 years of diplomatic relations, Philippine Ambassador Maria Theresa B. Dizon-De Vega expressed aspirations for deeper mutual comprehension, advocating for more exchanges between the two nations.
In an interview with Maeil Business Newspaper on Wednesday, Dizon-De Vega emphasized cultural exchange as the optimal means to strengthen ties between Korea and the Philippines. She noted that despite the two nations’ presumed familiarity with each other, there is still unexplored territory to be discovered.
The Philippines is the country that deployed the first and largest number of troops in Asia to South Korea during the Korean War. In celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Korea-Philippines diplomatic relations, 2024 is considered particularly significant, with the likely elevation of the bilateral ties to a “strategic partnership” following the enforcement of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the two countries. Both of these developments are outcomes of the bridge-building efforts led by Dizon-De Vega in her third year of tenure.
Dizon-De Vega also underscored the growing impact of Korean pop culture in the Philippines, highlighting its role as a significant backdrop for dynamic people-to-people exchanges. She emphasized the cultural similarities that are evident through closer interactions between the two nations, referencing the Korean concept of “Jeong” that is characterized by affection and bonding.
She pointed out the common practice of asking whether one has eaten as a form of greeting in both cultures. She elaborated that when one party has not eaten, it is customary for the other to suggest sharing a meal, with the shared value of communal dining a means of fostering connections and expressing affection.
Dizon-De Vega also highlighted the growing people-to-people exchanges between the two countries. Currently, there are about 67,000 Filipino residents in Korea and about 87,000 Koreans in the Philippines. Calling these residents true ambassadors, she praised their contribution to cultural exchange and laying the foundation for bilateral relations.
Highlighting her point, most tourist visitors to Korea last year were from the Philippines, while the number of Koreans visiting the Philippines remains at around 60 percent of pre-Covid-19 pandemic levels. Dizon-De Vega explained that Korea is now elevated to one of the most preferred destinations for Filipinos among many attractive tourist destinations thanks to the Korean pop culture boom.
Filipinos often leave Korea with a positive impression and plan to revisit within a few months, wanting to experience the country’s four seasons, which the Philippines does not have, she said, adding that she hopes lowering entry barriers for Filipino tourists could facilitate those tourist visits for Korea to sustain the popularity of Korean pop culture as well.
Dizon-De Vega, a distinguished career diplomat, graduated with honors from the University of the Philippines, Diliman. She also holds postgraduate degrees from Canada and Hong Kong, as well as excelling in both the foreign service exam and the judicial bar exam during her tenure. Her fascination with Korea’s economic growth began 36 years ago with a book on modern Korean history, fostering a deep interest in Korean culture and affairs, and her understanding of Korean popular culture stems from her determined pursuit of knowledge in this area.
When asked what she thought was the most interesting book related to Korea, De Vega mentioned “Hendrick Hamel’s Journal of the Kingdom of Korea.” Citing the book caught her attention for being the first European publication on Korea, she said she would love to visit Jeju Island and Gangjin, South Jeolla Province, where Hamel was stranded.
[ⓒ Pulse by Maeil Business Newspaper & mk.co.kr, All rights reserved]