By Jesse T. Reyes

SAN DIEGO, Calif. – Cheers!   What is it about Filipinos, that we may be among the most economically challenged people in the world, yet we are also known to be among the most cheerful and display the most warmth?

To Roberto L. Mayorga, former Ambassador of Chile in the Philippines, the answer is simple:  “Filipinos have what we call “calidad humana” – human compassion, humanity, and kindness of spirit.  In a world torn by conflict and hardships, these are the very qualities that make Filipinos stand out.”

The then top Chilean diplomat in the old homeland is so passionate about his belief in the innate Filipino kindness and compassion, that he started “Calidad Humana,” a campaign which aims to promote the best of the Filipino personality, and to share that Filipino calidad humana with other countries around the world – during his stint in the Philippines.

In 2012, the project garnered essays from more than 150 Filipino students that depicted the Filipino values espoused by the Calidad Humana project – strength of character, resiliency, and cheerfulness.

And then in 2013, Ambassador Mayorga embarked on another facet of the campaign - together with the University of the Philippines, University of Santo Tomas, University of Asia and the Pacific, Ateneo de Manila University, and the De Lasalle University, the Embassy of Brazil, the Cultural Center of the Philippines, and with other private entities with the support of his mobile service provider Smart Communications.

“Smiles for the World” was a national photo essay competition on Calidad Humana, which aims to collect photos and select and award the best ones that depict the Filipino capacity to manage life’s challenges with cheerfulness and fortitude.

(From the website, Smiles for the World was “intended to showcase through the  medium of photography and a short essay the delights of the iconic Filipino smile as an expression of such human qualities as friendship, spirit of peace, steadfastness, open-mindedness, nobility of character, gutsiness, cheerfulness, optimism, sporting spirit, fortitude, magnanimity, resilience, endurance, and many others that portray a culture of excellence in the family, in school, at work, in the immediate community, and on society at large.”)

Opened to all Filipinos of all ages, the competition accepted entrants until April 30, 2013 after which a grand prize winner was chosen by a panel of five judges, and the grand prize winner received a round trip air fare ticket with accommodations for Chile and Brazil, and for the winner to be the Filipinos’ Ambassador for Smiles for the World.  Cash prizes and other exciting prizes also awaited the grand winner, and the second and third placers.

With Ambassador Mayorga then personally taking care of opening and promoting the Calidad Humana campaign and the Smiles for the World national photo essay competition, and right on top of his work to strengthen the diplomatic, political, economic and cultural relationship between Chile and the Philippines – one can only wonder how he managed his goals so wonderfully.

He summed it all up as the Chilean envoy did expressed appreciation to the close Filipino-Chilean relationship.  He added that it was truly an honor for him in helping preserve and promoting the Filipino calidad humana and through “Smiles for the World” - to send around the world photos of the Filipino smile and show abroad the friendship and hospitality of the Filipino people, and of the entire country.

I say it’s a way for Filipino students to connect with Chile.   Certainly, Ambassador Mayorga wanted Filipinos to relate to Chile and for the Chileans to understand Filipinos.  No doubt about it, Chile may be geographically remote but the potential is absolutely there.

Listening to the Ambassador, one cannot help but be proud that a non-Filipino goes to such great lengths to fully express the distinctly Filipino values of cheerfulness and fortitude and to encourage Filipinos to ‘Live More.’

Described by Ambassador Mayorga in - “Calidad humana marked the person noble in his display, steadfast in his convictions and unfaltering in his equanimity without any pretensions at all – something that positively contributes in the end to life well spent.”

One of only two female leaders in the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, the Latin American leader commented: “I know football is not the favorite here.  So you can imagine a basketball team where half of the players are not participating?  It’s like a country!”

In 2015 while using metaphors, jokes and her own colorful personal story, visiting Chilean President Michelle Bachelet also commended the Filipino women and urged them to close the gender gap.

Chile’s very first female president took a break from the stiff events of the then on-going Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit and visited a local school – Miriam College – to meet and laugh with women and the youth.  Interestingly, the school is the oldest women’s college in the Philippines.

Bachelet paid tribute to Philippine efforts to promote women’s empowerment, and the commendable role of women In the Southeast Asian republic’s long struggle for democracy.

“There is no doubt about the contribution of the women of Katipunan in 1986, and the Katipuneras of Miriam College women against the Marcos dictatorship,” said Bachelet who herself was tortured and exiled under the dictatorship of the late Chilean general Augusto Pinochet.

The Latin American leader praised the Philippines’ effort for ranking 9th in the statistical account World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report of 2014.

“I want to acknowledge the progress in the Philippines.  The Philippines is the only Asian country that closed the gap in education, and health, and in the top 10 of the report.  I congratulate you,” she remarked.

On women in government, Bachelet pointed out that the Philippines have a 26% rate in female participation in politics, higher than the Asian average of 18.4% and the Chilean own rate of 16%.

Still, Chile’s first two-time president said that many challenges remain for ladies globally including Filipino and Chilean women to break the glass ceiling.

Absolutely, Chileans have such a high regard for the Philippines which incidentally is so much like Ambassador Mayorga’s and President Bachelet’s own country.

The affection of both Filipinos and Chileans stems from the dynamic interaction both peoples have had for generations.  In fact, when former Philippine President Benigno Aquino III delivered a toast for the state luncheon in honor of Chilean President Michelle Bachelet – he reminded the audience that there was a time in the Filipinos’ history when its very own 5-peso and 25-centavo coins were minted in Chile’s Casa de Moneda.

Beyond this bond of history, Chile and the Philippines share unique experiences, one of which is the fact that both peoples struggled to reclaim the freedom of their nations, and consequently, found themselves among the ranks of newly-restored democracies.

Just like our old homeland, Chile was once a colony of Spain; thus, Spanish is the national language of its people.  Not only that, its capital city of Santiago resembles Manila in many ways; it has an extended urban area, consisting of several towns that have merged with the city’s central into its suburbs.

What struck most casual Filipino observers about Chile is its amazingly awesome  similarity with the old Motherland of ours.  Both countries were once ruled by dictators.

“I think there are similarities in the experience of both countries with martial-law regimes,” the Philippines Ambassador to Chile explained as she compared the regimes of Augusto Pinochet and Ferdinand Marcos.  “Both countries were successfully able to overcome military rule with the restoration of their respective freedoms.  These days, we enjoy this freedom even more thoroughly, because we know what it was like to live in a world where (previously) there was none.”

She said the citizens of both countries are also family oriented:  “Both give prime importance on providing for and raising their families’ right.  They are also very traditional.  The children are close to their extended families.”

The Filipino Ambassador added that both nations have a young population.  This, she noted, would be interesting to observe in the years to come as the youth eventually will play an important role in helping their countries reach its potential,” and possibly take a more central role in their respective regions.”

For sure, our “kababayans” (fellow country folks) know very little about Chile, except that it is far from the old country.  However, in 2010, the South American country was placed under the spotlight when 33 Chilean miners, who were trapped underground for 69 days, were miraculously rescued and survived the ordeal.  For a while, the miners, and Chile, were the darlings of the world’s media.

No matter how far away, people in every corner of the world were moved by the miners’ resilience and fortitude.  The engineering feat that saved the men’s lives earned Chile respect and recognition, as well as gave the world a much-needed respite from generally bad news.

Personally, I do believe the very best of the Chilean national community came out of that incident – resilient, full of empathy, with the families of the miners and the whole country becoming one in times of national strife, rallying behind the miners.

Though Chile is so far away, the situation of the miners is really not far from our very own “kababayans” – it seems so remote but when you look very closely – we’ve had many close “connections” with the Chilean people.

The Chilean government immediately sent aid to the Philippines right after super typhoon Haiyan struck on Nov. 8, 2013.  Typhoon Haiyan was one of the strongest storms ever recorded in history with speeds up to 195 miles per hour.

“The Filipinos have faced a disaster of enormous dimensions and we Chileans know what it is to face natural disasters,” the Chilean Foreign Minister Alfredo Moreno then said at a press conference on Nov. 11, 2013.

Indeed, Chileans are familiar with the human toll natural disasters can exact.  Over the past three decades, earthquakes, tsunamis, storms, floods and other natural disasters have killed almost 1,600 people in Chile, according to international disaster statistics.

The natural disaster which caused the most damage was an 8.8 magnitude earthquake that occurred off the coast of central Chile on Feb. 27, 2010.  The earthquake caused a tsunami.  The earthquake and the tsunami killed 535 people, left 25 people missing and left about nine percent of the country’s population homeless.

Typhoon Haiyan directly affected a small number of Chileans in the Philippines.  “They are all safe and sound, but shaken,” the Chilean Consul to the Philippines reported then in a TV interview.

The Chilean president then also sent a personal note of condolence to the government of the Philippines expressing the Chilean people’s “deepest sorrow” over the tragedy.

By the way, the country of Chile is one of the farthest diplomatic postings at the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs.  Located 17,140 kilometers from Manila, it would take you more than a day to reach Santiago (its capital) via Australia.

And, unlike other diplomatic postings that are concerned with the welfare of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), Chile has only 343 Filipino residents to take care of.

Perfectly, the Philippines and Chile have excellent relations despite the distance.

The diplomatic bonds between the two nations historically go a long way back as the Philippines is the first Southeast Asian country to have ties with Chile in 1946.

(Actually, diplomatic relations between Chile and the Philippines began in 1854 when Chile opened a consulate in Binondo, Manila during the Spanish colonial period.  But the formal relations established in July 4, 1946, the day when the Philippines officially gained its independence from the United States.  Chile has an embassy in Manila and the Philippines have an embassy in Santiago.)

In November of 2015 – then President Benigno Aquino III warmly welcomed Chilean President Michelle Bachelet for her first –ever state visit to the Philippines.

Even then, the Filipino president indicated that the two countries share “unique experiences.’   Both were colonized by Spanish rulers, have an influential Catholic Church and are frequented by natural disasters.

President Aquino admitted he found a special connection with Bachelet, citing their experiences under military rule.

“In you, Madame President, I can say, I find a kindred spirit.  You yourself experienced what it was like to stand up to a dictatorship, and thus demonstrated the solidarity and sacrifice required to build a vibrant democracy, together with your people,” Aquino told Bachelet during his speech at the state luncheon then.

Bachelet, a doctor by profession, fought the military regime in Chile in the 1970s.  Similar to Aquino’s experience, her father was arrested by a dictator.  Bachelet herself was tortured but released into exile in 1975, before returning to her country.

Aquino, for his part, is the son of former Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. the political nemesis of former president Ferdinand Marcos.

“As individuals who had to endure hardship and exile under our countries’ dictatorial regimes, you and I know full well the terror tyranny brings.  And by regaining our liberties, our function has been to make democracy inclusive for everyone,” Aquino noted then.

He then added: “It is my belief that, if we fail to do so, there might be the temptation for some quarters to return to some form of authoritarianism.”

The Latin American president had nothing but agreeable words for Aquino.

“As you said so correctly, Mr. President, Chile and the Philippines, the Philippines and Chile share common values and principles.  We believe in democracy and human rights, and shared prosperity,” she declared.

On the trade front, 2015 was truly the year when the level of commerce between the two nations really picked up.  This was due to the Philippines hosting the APEC summit, and both countries were wishing to have bilateral negotiations exactly for the purpose of enhancing trade between them.

In fact, the Philippines and Chile signed a letter of intent on a joint feasibility that will view the benefits of free trade agreement between both countries.

In addition, Chilean President Bachelet and then Philippine President Aquino signed a memorandum of understanding on disaster risk reduction management during Bachelet’s official state visit.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Embassy in Santiago continued with its drive to lure Chilean tourists to visit the country, with the help of the tourism department’s “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” campaign.

The Filipino ambassador and her staff did their best not to miss any opportunity to promote the country in this remote part of the world by attending different food and tourism fairs.

The Filipina envoy shared that she was able to realize her dream of seeing Philippine dried mangoes in Chilean markets, when Santiago allowed the entry of these fruits through the agriculture conglomerate Dole in 2014.  She said she worked hard for the Chilean Ministry of Agriculture to approve the importation by Chile, not only of mangoes, but also banana chips and pineapple chips.

Interestingly, potential jobs await Filipinos in Chile, too because of the country’s need for English teachers.  This was disclosed at the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vladivostok, Russia.  The Chilean government was to train Filipino school teachers in Spanish in exchange for the Philippines to help the Chileans with their English fluency.

And to share the good news of Jesus Christ – a new frontier has just opened for Adelphos Chilean Missions Agency – and it’s in the Philippines!

In full drive, the Chileans are heading to the Philippines!

The director of Adelphos calls the expansion to the old homeland of ours “a step of faith in Asia.”  “We only know that God’s hand has opened this big door in a country with 100 million people and more than seven thousand islands.  What a great missionary field to take the good news of the gospel!”

This Chilean organization is going to provide prayer support and personnel assistance for Filipino pastors and Christians who are hard at work in their own country.

This month, a team from Adelphos is taking the first trip to the new frontier to see what God might do in the Philippines!   The plan is for Adelphos missionaries to help out the Philippines churches with some outreach trips on the islands, some children’s ministry events and some relief work services.

By the way, the Filipinos’ diplomatic representative in Chile is in the person of Ambassador Maria Consuelo Puyat-Reyes; she is also concurrently the country’s ambassador to Bolivia and Ecuador.

Since her appointment as ambassador to Chile, seven bilateral agreements have been signed in the areas of agriculture, mining, housing, tourism, education and trade, while cooperation and assessment programs were also established.

As a testament to her deep involvement in the fields of civic and social awareness during her tenure as Philippine envoy to Chile, Puyat-Reyes was awarded the medal “Orden el merito de Chile en el Grado de Gran Cruz” at a ceremony at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on June 23, 2010.

The Filipina ambassador also shared an unforgettable experience she has had during her posting in Chile.

She was amazed at how Chilean President Michelle Bachelet found out that she figured in a car accident during the latter’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) in 2014.

While she was on her way to the SONA, her diplomatic car was bumped from behind by another car, and she failed to make it to the event.

“The Chilean President had seen that my seat beside the dean of the diplomatic corps, the Apostolic Nuncio, was empty.  She instructed her aides to check if I was still at the Residence, and when they learned I was not there, she then asked her aides to check if there was a car with diplomatic plate that figured recently in an accident,” she narrated.

“Despite the harrowing experience, I shall never forget the attention that the Chilean President’s Office extended to me during those times,” Puyat-Reyes acknowledged.

While both nations may be separated by the vast Pacific, I do believe that the vision of the Filipinos and the Chileans will never be foreign to each other: a dignified life for their fellow countrymen, the preservation of freedom and the realization of a more inclusive world, one where no one is left behind.

Indeed, their shared background, together with shared problems, pushed both peoples to look for shared solutions towards achieving their shared aspirations.

As former President Benigno Aquino III gave a toast on behalf of the Filipinos during the luncheon in honor of Chilean President Michelle Bachelet:  “Siempre estaremos alli para nuestros hermanos Chilenos.”  (“We will always be there for our Chilean brothers.”

Absolutely, the Philippines and Chile see eye to eye with one another as both are truly so much alike with each other and in practically everything else.


Photo: Photo: World Chile MapPhoto: Chilean President  Michelle Bachelet in “Barong Tagalog” while attending the 2015 APEC Summit in Manila, Philippines

Photo: STATE VISIT OF CHILE PRESIDENT MICHELLE BACHELET/ NOVEMBER 16, 2015President Benigno Aquino lll and  President of Republic of Chile Michelle Bachelet troop the line during the welcome ceremony held at Malacanang palace Monday.  Chlie President is on her second day of State visit and for the APEC summit.INQUIRER PHOTO/ JOAN BONDOCA KINDRED SPIRIT:  Former President Benigno Aquino III and Chilean President Michelle Bachelet trooping the colors during the 2015 state visit in Manila, Philippines

Photo: AMBASSADOR OF CHILE IN THE PHILIPPINES ROBERTO MAYORGA AND FAMILY:  Started “Calidad Humana” campaign in the Philippines and exported the iconic Filipino smile to the world