Dutch-Philippine Relations: The Ties That Bind

The arrest of NDFP chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison by Dutch police has brought attention to Dutch interests in the country.

Vol. VII, No. 31, September 9-15, 2007

The arrest of NDFP chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison by Dutch police, purportedly to enforce a special law in The Netherlands, for allegedly ordering the killings of Romulo Kintanar and Arturo Tabara in the Philippines, has brought attention to Dutch interests in the country.

The Dutch Foreign Ministry, said Sison’s counsel Jan Fermon, admitted in its website that the inclusion of the CPP-NPA and Sison in its list of terrorists was done to comply with the request of the U.S. government. It likewise stated that the 150 Dutch companies have investments in the Philippines and that Holland is one of the major investors now in the country. It added that the only burden in the relationship between Holland and the Philippines is the presence of what they called the Communist leadership in Utrecht.

The Philippines is the main U.S. ally in Southeast Asia, while the Netherlands places second to the United Kingdom in being a major U.S. ally in Europe. The U.S. was the first to include the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) and Sison in its terrorist list. The Dutch government followed suit and it even supported the inclusion of Sison in the European Union list of “foreign terrorists” in 2002.

Sison is known as the founding chairman of the CPP. In 1968 he led a group that broke away from the leadership of the Lava brothers in the old Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas (PKP) and re-established the CPP.

Under Sison’s leadership, the CPP rapidly gained strength and together with the NPA, its armed component, it developed into one of the strongest organized forces opposed to the U.S.-Marcos regime during the martial law years.

He was the CPP’s highest-ranking leader from its reestablishment until he was arrested by the Marcos dictatorship in 1977.

Released in 1986 by virtue of then President Corazon Aquino’s general amnesty proclamation for political prisoners, Sison got involved in a number of legal political activities and even delivered a series of lectures at his alma mater, the University of the Philippines (UP).

In 1988, he found himself having to apply for political asylum after the Aquino government cancelled his passport while he was in Europe on a speaking tour. He has since lived in the Netherlands as an asylum seeker.

In 2002, the CPP-NPA was included by the U.S. Department of State in its list of “foreign terrorist organizations.” Sison was also listed as a “foreign terrorist.” The Dutch government listed the CPP-NPA and Sison in its own terror list a day after the U.S. listing. The Council of the European Union followed suit later that year.

On May 29, the Council of the European Union decided to retain Sison in its “terrorist” list. This decision was annulled by the July 11 verdict of the European Court of First Instance (ECFI).

On Aug. 28, Sison was arrested by Dutch police in Utrecht for allegedly ordering the murders of former CPP-NPA leaders Kintanar and Tabara in 2003 and 2004, respectively.

Sison’s arrest has placed focus on the ties between the Philippine and Dutch governments and the U.S., and Dutch business interests in the Philippines.

Based on information from the office of Anakpawis (Toiling Masses) Rep. Crispin Beltran, for instance, the Arroyo administraton has recently approved an oil exploration project by Dutch, U.S. and British companies covering about a million hectares of agricultural and fishing areas in the Bicol region. In early August, Beltran said, the Dutch company Premier Oil secured permission to drill an exploration well within Service Contract 43 in Ragay Gulf, and has in fact earmarked some $3.6-9.6 million for the said project.

The Philippines is The Netherlands’ third major trading partner among Asian countries, Beltran also said.

“The language barrier is not present in the Philippines as a location for offshore work,” explains Brian Altman, managing director of the Dutch IT service firm IAMD Software Solutions which operates in the Philippines, on why the country has been emerging as a favorite base for offshore operations among European companies. “Everybody speaks English. Furthermore, the Philippines has an abundance of highly skilled and very creative people that are not afraid to work hard at very low costs compared to the West.”

The Dutch software company started out as a small freelance Web development company specializing in travel packages for a hotel/resort portal devoted to traveling in the Philippines. Later on it tapped into local companies’ online needs.

IAMD’s major local client is the SM chain of malls and department stores, which is owned by Henry Sy. SM relies on IAMD for online transactions and website maintenance.

Premier Oil and IAMD Software Solutions are among some 30 Dutch companies now operating in the Philippines.

The largest among these Dutch business interests in the Philippines are in the outsourced business processes. These include Getronics, the ING Group, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, and the Bickers Group of Companies – Bickers Law Firm, Bickers Corporate and Bickers Public Solutions.

Getronics is an information and communication technology (ICT) service provider for corporations. It integrates and manages ICT systems for several Dutch and global companies and organizations.

The ING Group is a global financial services company claiming to be one of the 20 largest financial institutions worldwide. It provides banking, insurance and asset management services.

The Bickers Group of Companies provides legal, government liaising, and trade-related services to European companies with business interests in Europe and Southeast Asia. Its base of operations in Asia is located in Cebu, the company’s first satellite office outside The Netherlands.

Beyond the outsourced business processes, Dutch companies in the Philippines have large business ventures in food, home, and personal care products; the oil industry; petroleum trading, oil and gas exploration; solar energy, electronics, banking, insurance, coco coir export, and wholesale trade.

The Royal Dutch Shell is one of the “Big Three” multinational oil industry players in the Philippines and the world. It was ranked this year by Fortune magazine as the third largest corporation in the world, behind Wal-Mart and ExxonMobil.

Aside from gasoline and diesel, Shell also produces car and motorcycle oils like Shell Helix for cars and Shell Advance for motorcycles. Shell also produces the Shellane brand of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). Its solar energy company, Shell Solar, piloted a sunstation in Aklan and recently completed a feasibility study for establishing and operating sunstations in Palawan.

Shell is involved in oil and gas explorations in Camago and Malampaya fields, which are located not more than 200 nautical miles off the coast of Palawan.

The Vitol Group provides oil trading and marketing services for upstream producers and downstream retailers. It is also involved in oil and gas exploration.

In the food, home and personal care products business Unilever is easily one of the most prominent in the Philippines. Unilever is a multinational company of Anglo-Dutch parentage. It is associated with several brand-name products: Knorr, Becel/Flora, Bertolli, Lipton, Blue Band, Rama, Country Crock, Doriana, Heartbrand, Hellman’s, Amora, Calvé, Wish-Bone, Slim·Fast, Cif, Comfort, Domestos, Omo, Radiant, Sunlight, Surf, Axe, Dove, Lifebuoy, Lux, Rexona, Pond’s, Signal, Close Up, Sunsilk, and Vaseline.

In wholesale trade, Makro is one of the giants in the Philippines. Established in the Philippines in 1995, Pilipinas Makro is a partnership between the Dutch SHV Holdings N.V and SM Prime Investments of the Sy Group of Companies. Its clients in the Philippines include hotels, restaurants, caterers, and sari-sari (variety) store owners.

Other Dutch companies with interests in the Philippines are Philips (electronics), ABN-AMRO (banking), and Rinos N.-V Corion (coco coir export).

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