By Ruth Abbey Gita-Carlos

COURTESY CALL. President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. welcomes Marshall President Hilda Heine at Malacañan Palace in Manila on Thursday (March 7, 2024). During Heine’s courtesy call, Marcos said he was keen on advancing the fisheries cooperation between the Philippines and the Marshall Islands. (Photo from PBBM’s official Facebook page)

MANILA – President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. on Thursday expressed his interest in advancing the fisheries cooperation between the Philippines and the Marshall Islands.

Marcos broached the idea when Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine paid him a visit at Malacañan Palace in Manila.

“We welcome President Hilda Heine, President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), as she undertakes a visit to the Philippines,” he said in a Facebook post.

“Expanding on our 35-year bond with the RMI, we look forward to advancing a fisheries cooperation agreement and bolstering Pacific cooperation.”

Marcos also shared several photos of him and Heine during the latter’s courtesy call at Malacañan.

During the meeting, Marcos and Heine also made a commitment to strengthen the two nations’ collaboration in various areas such as labor, education and skills training, and agricultural production, Communications Secretary Cheloy Garafil said in a separate statement.

Garafil said Heine relayed to Marcos the plan of Marshall Islands to forge labor arrangements with the Philippines’ public and private sectors, citing its millions of dollars worth of infrastructure projects and the recruitment of Filipino workers in Majuro-based construction firms.

She said Marcos was also informed by Heine that Marshall Islands also needs medical professionals in specialized fields such as radiology, orthopedic surgery, general surgery and other medical services that are not available in the Pacific island nation.

“Heine, who is in the country to attend the International Women’s Day event organized by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), said her country is also looking for support from the Philippine government on seaweed farming, as her country diversify people’s livelihood amid the threats posed by climate change that triggers sea level rise,” Garafil said.

Heine said she wants communities in Marshall Islands to cultivate seaweed as an alternative source of income considering that most of them make copra.

Marcos said Heine’s plan is a “good idea” because the demand for the seaweed products is “still quite high.”

Heine’s visit to the Philippines comes after she was sworn in as president of the Marshall Islands in January.

She made history as the first woman to lead an independent Pacific Island nation when she was first elected president in January 2016.

The Philippines and the Marshall Islands formally established their diplomatic relations on Sept. 15, 1988.

There are around 1,500 Filipinos in the Marshall Islands working mainly in the fields of clerical support, craft and trade, machine operators, and professionals, among others. 

In 2023, the Philippines’ total trade with the Marshall Islands reached USD36 million, with exports valued at USD3.5 million and imports at USD32.4 million. 

Top imports from the Marshall Islands include skipjack or stripe-bellied bonito (excluding livers and roes), frozen; helicopters of an unladen weight not exceeding 2,000 kg; yellowfin tunas (Thunnus albacares) (excluding livers and roes), frozen; bigeye tunas (Thunnus obesus) (excluding livers and roes), frozen; and fish fillets, frozen. 

In terms of tourism, a total of 233 tourist arrivals from the Marshall Islands were recorded in 2022, lower than the 557 recorded in 2019 or prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.

To date, there have been no bilateral agreements reached between the two countries. (PNA)