ABU DHABI // The new Philippine ambassador to the UAE said yesterday one of her main priorities was to establish community centres for her compatriots here. The estimated 320,000 Filipinos living in the country do not currently have a centre to meet in, said Grace Princesa. But that could be about to change.
Ms Princesa met the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, at the weekend, and the proposed community centre was among subjects they discussed. Afterwards, she said Sheikh Abdullah had welcomed the idea. "The Foreign Minister advised me on how to go about it by allowing the private sector, through the Ministry of Social Affairs, to take the lead," said Ms Princesa, 53. She said such facilities, first in Abu Dhabi and later in other emirates, could also help Filipinos integrate into Arabic culture and traditions.
Investment issues and the strengthening of diplomatic ties were also discussed at the meeting. "Sheikh Abdullah and I also agreed on conducting bilateral policy consultations focused on investment and consular relations. " As part of that, Ms Princesa said she planned to visit the International Renewable Energy Agency in Abu Dhabi to outline "green" energy investment opportunities in her country.
"The Philippines is a source of renewable energy: geothermal, solar and wind," she said, adding that the Philippine president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, had ratified a new law designed to help slow climate change last month. Ms Princesa said she also intended to promote the abaca (hemp) industry in the Philippines; the country is the world's biggest producer. The three main pillars of her country's foreign policy were national security, economic security and the protection of the rights and welfare of Filipinos abroad, she said.
Ms Princesa also praised the UAE's development ambitions: "They are on the right path in pursuing modernisation and leadership in the region without losing their cultural roots and heritage." She said another aspect of her tenure would be to encourage the Filipino community to promote entrepreneurship and the spirit of bayanihan (helping others in times of need). Alongside that, she said she intended to support attempts by her government to make the transition back to Filipino life easier for returning expatriates, and to improve women's employment prospects at home to help reduce the need to leave in the first place. "Once we identify what could be done, [the] feminised migration phenomenon could be minimised and the ladies would have a choice," she said.
Other issues, such as local initiatives on the protection of human rights and the UAE's role in the global forum on migration and development, were also applauded by the ambassador. "The UAE has very good practices in migration and how best to address the concerns of migrant workers." Ms Princesa is the first female Philippine ambassador to the UAE. She succeeded Libran Cabactulan, who held the post for six years.
Her diplomatic career spans more than two decades, and she is returning to Abu Dhabi after a gap of 13 years. Previously, she was the first female chargé d'affaires and the first Filipina foreign service officer to be assigned to the Philippine Embassy, between 1994 and 1996. Her other foreign postings have been in Chicago, Cairo, Geneva and Baghdad. At the start of the Iraq war in 2003, Ms Princesa, as chargé d'affaires and consul general at the Philippine Embassy in Baghdad, took charge of Filipino evacuees from the war-torn country.