Press Conference of Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella and Swedish Ambassador-designate Harald Fries
Press Briefing Room, New Executive Bldg., Malacañang
11 November 2016


PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Ladies and gentlemen of the Malacañang Press Corps. 

We’re very fortunate to have as a resource person this morning the Ambassador-designate of the Embassy of Sweden to the Philippines, His Excellency Harald Fries.

Ambassador Fries is no stranger to the Philippines, 25 years ago he was assigned in Manila where he served as the embassy of Sweden’s second secretary for four years.

After his tour of duty in the Philippines, Ambassador Fries became the first secretary of the permanent mission of Sweden to the United Nations in Geneva in Switzerland.

In 2005, he became a minister of the permanent mission of Sweden to the United Nations in New York.

Ambassador Fries is no stranger to the Philippines, not just because he has stayed here, but because he is also married to a Filipina. She is the daughter of Doctor Batongbakal. Okay, and they have two sons.

Three days ago, on November 8, the Embassy of Sweden reopened its doors in Manila, underscoring the high investor confidence in the Duterte administration, coinciding also with the arrival of the largest Swedish business delegation ever in Manila.

To talk about this, in new avenues of cooperation for Philippines-Swedish relationships, relations, ladies and gentlemen of the Malacañang Press Corps, let us welcome Ambassador Harald Fries, Ambassador-designate Harald Fries of the Embassy of Sweden, Mr. Fries.

  1. FRIES:Thank you Secretary Abella. Good morning everybody. I am delighted to be here to meet you all.

If you like, I can say a few more words about myself and the role of me as ambassador here in the Philippines and the happy fact that we, Sweden, is now reopening its embassy in the Philippines.

I arrived here with my wife, a little more than two months ago. We’ve been working hard in the embassy to prepare for the major business delegation we had MondayTuesdayWednesday here in Manila and the inauguration of the embassy last Tuesday.

The Swedish embassy closed here in Manila in 2008. We had to do this for financial reasons, this was soon after the financial crisis, the global financial crisis, and the Swedish government had to cut the cost and closed several embassies around the world.

But a year ago, the Prime Minister of Sweden decided to reopen the embassy and he did this in recognition of the very positive developments of this country, at least the economic developments. 

And the Swedish government realized that there is a great potential in increased trade, investment, people-to-people exchange between our countries.

So now, less than a year after that decision, we are opening our doors to our embassy, we’re back in town and I’m very happy about this. And as the Secretary mentioned, I’m new as an ambassador but not new to this country.

I’ve been here every year for 30 years, at least once a year, visiting my wife’s family together with my family.

The Swedish Minister for Enterprise and Innovation, Mr. Mikael Damberg, was here in Manila this week, to cut the ribbon during the inauguration of the embassy of Sweden.

He also headed this biggest business delegation ever to the Philippines. And he had very constructive talks with Secretary Tugade and Secretary Lopez.

And the business representatives coming from Sweden had very fruitful meetings with the Philippine business counterparts and the Swedish delegation went back to Sweden, very optimistic and hopeful about coming business partnerships with Philippine business partners here.

So, this week has been an excellent week, I think, for Swedish-Philippine relations.

If you like, I can, I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have on whatever subject you would like to bring up with me. 


Leila Salaverria (Philippine Daily Inquirer): Good morning sir. 

MR FRIES: Good morning.

Ms. Salaverria: Sir, the European Union of which Sweden is a member has expressed concern about the human rights situation in the Philippines, how do you see this affecting the interest of Swedish businessmen, if at all, in coming to the Philippines?

  1. FRIES: Well I haven’t heard from any Swedish businessmen any concrete hesitancies or concern about doing business here.

On the contrary, it’s been very positive comments that I have heard. 

Ms. Salaverria: Sir, may I know which particular aspects do they find positive about the Philippines? Which do they like best about the country?

  1. FRIES: Well, there are many positive factors here, if we look overall on the fundamentals of the, this country with–

It’s a country with more than a hundred million people, and combine that with the high growth rates. I mean anyone would like to come here and do business with such a huge and growing market, and stable inflation, sound fiscal situation, and very importantly, a young talented, well-educated, and English-speaking population.

So many of the fundamentals are right here for increasing business relations. And then with the new administration, I think there are reforms taken here which are positive for increased business relations.

I’m thinking of the 10-point socioeconomic program which we welcome very much. Tax reform is in the pipeline. Reduced restrictions in foreign ownership. We’re also looking forward to that.

You have a very large remittances coming in every year, which means, that adds to stability of the economy and it adds to consumption power which is a very positive factor.

I also think that the President’s anti-poverty programs are very welcome. I mean in the long run, it’s critical for any country to get rid of poverty. It’s good not only for the poor people but for the whole society of course.

So all in all, there are many positive factors about the Philippines now. And Sweden, the trade between Sweden and the Philippines is we feel much too low, so there’s a great potential for enhanced trade relations and investment relations between our two countries.

And, I will also like to see during my term here as Ambassador that we increase more generally people-to-people exchange. 

Look at tourism for instance. I think there are more than 15 times as many Swedes visiting Thailand than visiting the Philippines which I find hard to understand, to tell you the truth.

I mean, I’m sure that maybe with the better infrastructure here in this country, we will see many, many more Swedes coming to visit the Philippines and enjoy your beautiful islands.  

Also I would like to promote academic exchange, student exchange. 

There is some already but considering the emphasis that Filipinos put on education, your high quality universities here, that your English skills, it… everything is set for Swedes to come here to study and Filipinos go to Sweden to study, if we can find some programs then that can facilitate this through scholarships or other ways, I would be extremely happy and I look forward to do what I can to achieve this.

Also, exchange of professionals. I would think that the Philippines would be very interesting for young Swedish tech nerds to come at work here, considering how advanced you are and the… how business is growing, the IT business is growing here, BPO business. 

And I know that there are high-quality professionals here that… high professional qualities… high quality professionals here in the Philippines who should be able to find work in the Sweden.

For instance, this year, 60 Filipino nurses have been recruited to Sweden for the first time I think ‘cause there’s a need of high-quality nurses in Sweden and you have a lot of them here.

The only thing that these nurses need to do is to learn to Swedish but there are put into language courses and I’m sure that they learn quickly and I think this kind of exchange could increase significantly between our two countries. 

Trisha Macas (GMA News Online): Good morning, Ambassador. Sir, you mentioned about one thing to be involved in the country’s defense, you want to open… with Sweden to Philippines defense market. So can we get more information on this, or details on–?

  1. FRIES:Well, you may have read something about it. I don’t think I have mentioned it here actually.

Ms. Macas: Yeah, I mean I read it somewhere else. But you mentioned before.

  1. FRIES: Well, it’s true that a Swedish company, Saab, multinational Swedish defense and civilian security company has opened up a representative office here in Manila, just the other day, last Wednesday.  

And they are looking into business partnerships here but the Swedish government doesn’t have any defense cooperation with the Philippines or the government is not engaged in any marketing of defense products.

There are also some Swedish companies in that sector but has not really anything to do with the Swedish government. 

And this company, Saab, they have very advanced civilian systems and products which I think could be very useful for the Philippines, for instance, air traffic control for airports or maritime traffic management, surveillance systems.

I mean you have a huge archipelago, so for safety. And I think it could be of interest to look into such modern advanced systems.

Ms. Macas: But will the Swedish government be open to have a defense cooperation with the Philippines?

  1. FRIES: Well, we… What could happen is if a company would like to sell defense material to the Philippines, then the Swedish government would have to look into this and give some sort of approval. There’s a Swedish government agency who gives approval for the Swedish side to such deals.

But this is nothing that is on the table right now. And we don’t know anything about that.

Thank you. It’s been a pleasure. 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: We’d like to appreciate the Ambassador especially for pointing out the opportunities, the positive aspects that they pointed out.

It is interesting that he was able to go through more than 10, 15 to 20 points of possibility. I took note of that, including a huge market and huge market, steady inflation and so forth.

We’d also like to recognize those, some of our guests this morning. We have Mr. Frank Evangelista Jr. and [Mr. Emmanuel Zamora Monyis?] of City Bank.

For this morning, just like to take up a few points. The Freedom of Information takes effect on November 25

The Executive Order granting public access to information of government transactions and operations will take effect on that date.

This is a new task as Sec. Martin Andanar has said, a new task for our fellow government workers as we continue to learn the ropes that we’d be able to craft mechanisms that may improve efficiency because this resolve to promote transparency, this is a big leap for the country’s progress.

This particular FOI, the Freedom of Information, the intention to have an Freedom of Information has been on the pipeline for the past two to three decades and I would like to take note that the President is taking initiative to open up the Executive branch to FOI.

Second, as we welcome the new President-elect of the United States, it has been noted that, where people have taken have said that there’s similarities between the two, the President himself has pointed out that there are main similarities perhaps maybe in their , in yearning to serve the people and the passion, passion for service.

Somebody has already said also that President-elect Trump may find remarkable comfort working with President Duterte.

Also, in relationship with the, by the new President, it has been suggested that the, an independent foreign policy anchored on sovereign equality may be President Duterte’s guiding principle in dealing with other nations.

Secretary Pernia has mentioned that the pivot to China was a preparation for the presidency, of the new presidency, whose protectionist policies are expected to, may be affecting remittances from abroad.

But he has also said that, Secretary Pernia, he mentioned that we do have a safety net which the President seems to have foreseen.

However, we do look forward to better relationships with all nations.

Regarding Malaysia, Malaysia eyes palm imports from the Philippines. There had been some new investments forge by the President during his official trip to China.

Malaysian investors are considering setting up palm oil plantations in Mindanao and Palawan and Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said the businessmen… the businessmen initially plan to develop about 80,000 hectares, but are considering expanding the investment to about 300,000 hectares throughout the Philippines, Secretary Lopez said in Kuala Lumpur when President Duterte was on an official visit.

Malaysia has 63 million dollars in investments in the Philippines. But with the strengthening of ties, we expect more investments.

Malaysian companies are also interested in infrastructure and energy investments. 

That’s about it for this day. There are two or three questions. 

Joseph Morong (GMA): Sir, I’d like to pick up on the point that you said that Mr. Trump may have a comfortable relationship with President Duterte, how so?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Simply from, taking out from the, what President Duterte said they both have common interests which is service to the people.

Mr. Morong: With this new administration January, do you think we’re going to… you said that we want to improve also the relationship with the United States.    


Mr. Morong: Are we going to see a shift from the President from his rhetoric and policies because of the new administration in the United States?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: I supposed, no… From what I can, from what we see is that he will find common areas of interests and then there will be an convergence of those common areas of interests, yes.

Mr. Morong: But the previous statements regarding military exercises, what do you think what will happen to that?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Will see how it unfolds. Will see how it develops. 

Mr. Morong:  Thank you.


Ms. Salaverria: Good morning, sir. The President mentioned that he believes the police version of how Mayor Espinosa was killed. How this will affect the ongoing investigation of the police into the incident. I mean is there a point to continuing it, if the President has made up his mind?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: No, it’s not as if he’s made up his mind. The investigation continues and the whole process will unfold.

But at this point, he’s simply saying, what he has already said that he will, he will stand by what the police has said. And he will take it as, no… It is simply an assumption of regularity. He assumes that there… what the police have said is along the lines of regularity.

Ms. Salaverria: So, the PNP investigation is ongoing, so the official report, the final report of the PNP is what he’ll believe, or the version of the CIDG who undertook the operation? Because there are two different sides.

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Right. So we will go by what the, we will go by the results of the investigation, of the official investigation. Q: [off mic]

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: The regional, yeah. Any other question? 

Ms. Macas: Sir, last night, President Duterte confirmed that he had reached a deal with Malaysia to deport 7,000 illegal Filipinos in, I think in Sabah. So do we have like… how will the process move? I think this would be a gradual repatriation. So are there any initial plans to move this forward?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: No. It will, it will take its on course. It has its natural course. And like you said, it will be a gradual repatriation.

Ms. Macas: So, no… Wala pang silang process na napag-usapan during the meeting?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: The actual details will have to be worked out.

Ms. Macas: Okay. Thank you sir.


Mr. Morong: Sir, regarding the Marcos burial. I’m sure by this time we have a working date. Has the Marcos family communicated?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: No. The best we can say is it will be within the year.

Mr. Morong: Within the year. Hindi naman sir November 30? ‘Cause may lumulutang na–

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: I cannot say anything along that lines.

Mr. Morong: ‘Yung sa APEC daw sir.


Mr. Morong: Kunwari I’m disinterested. But the President is he serious about skipping it? Or has he made a decision not to go or to go?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: No, he simply was saying that he was really concerned about the travel, it takes about what 24 to 36 hours, just traveling, that’s about practically two days and a half. Going one way. So it is a concern. But he was simply… I think he was just voicing some concerns about– especially that.

Mr. Morong: But he’s going?


Mr. Morong: At this point?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: At this point. There are no cancellations.

Maricel Halili (TV5): Sir, just to follow-up, will the President meet with the US President Barack Obama because I understand this will be their, I don’t know, last chance to talk to each other?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Well, officially there… I don’t think there are any bilaterals. I’m not sure about any bilaterals. But who knows? 

Ms. Halili: But is the President willing to talk to him?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: His willingness is up to him. Thank you.

Reymund Tinaza (Bombo Radyo): Sir just to get back, categorical. Sir kasi sinabi ng Pangulo na, on the Espinosa slay case na he will take the version of the PNP. Anong PNP ‘to? Kasi there are–

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: I think I answered already, I answered already, I think it will be taken up in the higher– But there were the official results will be, it will be taken up.

Mr. Tinaza: It’s not yet the CIDG-PNP?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Basically, he will go by the official conclusions of the investigation.

Mr. Tinaza: So it’s not yet safe to assume that he’s now taking the version of the operatives of the CIDG who killed the Mayor?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: We cannot say categorically about what versions [inaudible], but let us just allow the process to unfold.

Thank you. Anything else? If not, thank you very much. Happy weekend.

Thank you Malacañang Press Corps.