Mexico and the Philippines, 70th anniversary

More accurately, it has been 6 centuries, but if you start counting from 1953 when the Philippine Legation opened in Mexico City, it is indeed a 70-year relationship, a Platinum anniversary The legation was elevated to an embassy on 25 July 1961, and in 1964, Mexico and the Philippines celebrated a “Friendship Year ” highlighted by the State Visit of Pres. Adolfo Lopez Mateos. A “Plaza Mexico” celebrating the Manila-Acapulco galleon trade was set up in Intramuros, at the banks of the Pasig. Sadly, the plaza had to be unceremoniously demolished to give way to a bridge from People’s China.

Mexico sent its Escuadron 201 during WWII and it saw action over Pampanga during the Battle for Luzon. I was not aware of this until 1975 when I first landed in Mexico and met the survivors at an Independence Day reception in the Philippine Embassy. Outside the walls of Intramuros, across the street from the DPWH, behind the monument of Fr. Miguel Hidalgo, father of Mexican independence, there is a marker to commemorate the noble Escuadron 201.

Mexico and the Philippines are members of the United Nations, of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and the Association of Academies of the Spanish Language, although that language is hardly spoken here, despite a law signed by former President Gloria Arroyo (who speaks Spanish) that restored it as one of our official languages. In Mexico, Spanish became widely spoken only after Independence from Spain; it is the medium of instruction and a cultural shield against “ los yanquis del norte”.

Like the Philippines, Mexico recognized the People’s Republic of China in 1970 and closed its embassy in Taiwan where it maintains an Office of Consular Services similar to our Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) in Taipei. Once again since the galleon trade, Mexico is awash with Chinese tradeware.

Unlike the Philippines, Mexico has always been audacious in foreign policy. In the 1960’s it supported the Cuban revolution and continues to be allied with that beleaguered country. The Sandinistas of Nicaragua in the 1970’s, the FMLN of El Salvador in the 80’s received Mexico’s moral and political support. From the days of the Spanish civil war and US- instigated regime changes in Guatemala, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Panama and Grenada, political refugees, red-tagged activists, intellectuals and academics have found refuge in Mexico In 2009, Mexico removed the neutrality clause in its constitution in order to participate in peace missions of the UN. Likewise, the Philippines saved more than a thousand Jews from the holocaust and sheltered stateless Vietnamese.

When Mexico was the Virreinato de la Nueva España ( Viceroyalty of New Spain), we were the Capitanía-General de Filipinas, two oceans away from Spain, so we had to be administered through Mexico and subsidized yearly with Mexican silver, then a fully-fledged international currency. The galleon trade, that amazing trans-Pacific enterprise between Acapulco and Manila enhanced life in three continents.

Despite the long-established relationship of cultural similarities and historical affinities, Mexicans and Filipinos barely know each other. Blame the Spanish language and Fr. Miguel Hidalgo, that young Jesuit-educated secular priest who in 1810 started an anti-colonial revolution against Spain. GOMBURZA, Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifacio were not even born then! Fr. Hidalgo was executed a year after his call to arms, but the Mexicans continued to fight Spain until August 1821 when the Treaty of Cordoba was signed recognizing Mexico’s independence. They were not sold for US$ 20 million dollars, but Mexico lost half of its national territory (including Nuevas Filipinas, now Texas) during the westward expansion of the USA. When the Virreinato was no more, the lucrative galleon trade ended, Spain had to rule the Philippines directly, and our ancestors felt the brutal brunt of colonization, historians say.

To celebrate the platinum anniversary, I poured myself a glass of red wine, looked for the FB of Instituto Matias Romero (IMR), a school for diplomats established in 1974, named after an eminent 19th-century finance minister and ambassador to the USA. I tuned in live to “Panorama General de las Relaciones Entre México y Filipinas”. My daughter Fatimah who lives in Mexico was also tuned in. The speakers were our current ambassador, Mrs. Lilybeth R. Deapera, Mexico’s designated ambassador to the Philippines, Daniel Hernandez Joseph, head of Philippine Studies in Mexico’s state university, Ivan Valdez, Director General of IMR, Alejandro Alday and head of Asia Pacific, Fernando Gonzalez Saiffe.

Recently, I received an email from Xicotencatl Pinzón who is conducting DNA tests in Acapulco. Let me clue you in, there are so many Mexicans with Filipino blood than they ever imagined. Could we also be more Mexican than we think? The platinum anniversary bids to be the most memorable. There will be a Filipino Food Festival at the embassy which Fatimah vows not to miss.