With a new history series on Facebook, art shows in Dubai, a music writing competition coming up and a consul general who is also a singer and who is actively engaged in the community, Filipinos in the UAE are pushing for a bigger platform to showcase their extraordinarily multifaceted side.

Paul Raymund Cortes, Consul General of the Philippines in Dubai and the Northern Emirates, calls it a greater push for cultural diplomacy.

“A key aspect of Philippine foreign policy priority is our thrust on cultural diplomacy. It is defined as our courses of programmes, projects and actions based on and utilising the exchange of ideas, values, traditions and other aspects of culture, including history, or identity in pursuit of national interests and more,” says Cortes, fondly dubbed the singing consul general by expats from a country that shares his passion for music. 

Just how big is singing in the Philippines? So big that it’s everywhere. In fact, karaoke was a buzzword in the country long before the world picked up on it. From grassroots to the world stage, music fueled the rise of stars such as Disney princess and Tony Award winning singer Lea Salonga — who is slated to perform at the Dubai Opera later this year — and international star Charice.
“We continue our support for Filipino artists, musicians, songwriters and dancers,” Cortes says, revealing that a consulate-led songwriting competition called Dubai Dubai Musikahan will return for its second season in August. The consulate recently hosted the debut solo exhibition of UAE-based artist Susan de Guzman, as well as collaborative work by Paris-based photographer Ryan Arbilo, author of the acclaimed Chicken Hands.

Last week, the consulate launched The History Hour, a live Facebook broadcast where the Filipino academic community in the UAE talked about issues and insights to create a greater sense of awareness of Philippine history and culture. 

The UAE offers the perfect environment for Filipino ingenuity to thrive, Cortes says. “Employment and economic opportunities abound here, allowing Filipinos a spectrum of choices that tap their skills and expertise. Here we are able to ensure that not only are our skills properly compensated, but also provide a chance for the rest of the international community to understand why the world is in love with  Filipinos,” he says.

The UAE is home to more than 700,000 Filipino expatriates. “Filipinos in the UAE for the past 30 years have been an integral part of the community. Forty per cent of Filipinos in the UAE are highly skilled professionals such as architects, engineers, doctors, nurses, accountants and physiotherapists, proving to the world that a Filipino professional is just as competent as any,” Cortes says.

Philippine ambassador to the UAE Constancio  R. Vingno Jr agrees. “Filipinos have been here in the UAE since the 1970s and present in various sectors in the UAE’s economy,” Vingno tells GN Focus.
He says Filipinos in the UAE enjoy a good reputation. “We are deemed as hardworking, talented and caring,” he says, adding that even the consulate and embassy are “constantly think of ways on how to improve our services for our Filipino compatriots in the UAE”. 

Vingno says there have been many high-level visits to the UAE, including the Dubai visit of Secretary of Foreign Affairs Alan Peter Cayetano this year when he met with community leaders on May 27.  Vingno said a visit by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is in the pipeline but a date is yet to be set. “All these developments are geared to achieve foreign policy objectives of attaining national and economic security, and protection and promotion of the welfare of Filipinos abroad,” Vingno says.

A flurry of activities will mark the Philippines’ Independence Day today. In Dubai, the Consulate General will hold an interfaith activity on its premises. In the capital, the Filipino community will hold a late Philippine Independence Day celebration on June 30 at Khalidiya Mall. A similar event was held in Dubai on May 12. 

The activities reflect the UAE’s multicultural environment — which Cortes praised for the way it allows everyone access to a variety of opportunities. “The UAE is a wonderful place for Filipinos because it allows every Filipino to reach his potential,” he says.

Why is June 12 important?

- June 12, 1898 is when the late president Emilio Aguinaldo proclaimed Philippine independence from more than three centuries of Spanish rule.

- June 12, 2017 marks the 119th year that the Philippines has an independent country.

- It is the anniversary of the Philippine flag, which Aguinaldo designed and Marcela Agoncillo and her two assistants took five days to create before being hoisted in Kawit, Cavite, on June 12, 1898.

- June 12, 1898 was also the first time the national anthem, Lupang Hinirang, was played. The anthem was composed by Julian Felipe.