Taking time out of her busy schedule, Vietnamese Honorary Consul General of the Philippines Atty. Le Thi Phung speaks to Oi via email about relations between Vietnam and The Pearl of the Orient Seas

How big is the Filipino community in HCMC, and in Vietnam as a whole?

At the moment, we can’t give an accurate number because this hasn’t been cleared to us as well, but according to the High Ranking Officer in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hanoi there is an average of 1,000 Filipinos with three month visas and registrations, while the report from the High Ranking Officer of the Department of External Relations of HCMC [states] there are more than 5,000 Filipinos in southern Vietnam. We are working with both agencies to have this clarified.

Does the consulate office organize cultural activities?

Normally through the initiative and effort of the Filipino community, the Philippine consulate office co-hosts the Annual Family Day and Christmas Party for Filipinos. The consulate supports all the activities of the Filipino community such as the basketball league, festivals, etc.

The consulate actively participates in many festivals hosted by other agencies as well. Recently we have participated in the ASEAN Anniversary Celebration here in HCMC where we organized 70 kids to perform our traditional dance. At the moment we are working on sending our participants to the HCMC Our Common Home Festival this September.

How much remittance do the Filipinos living in Vietnam send back to the Philippines each year?

In general, 30 percent of [the Philippines’] GDP is contributed by Overseas Filipinos.

What materials do the two countries trade with each other?

Rice, instant noodles, fertilizer, canned [goods], sugar, peanuts and cashew nuts.

Tell us the history of Filipino migrant workers in Vietnam. When did they first arrive?

This is a very long history, but it has been recorded that Filipinos has been in and out of Vietnam since French colonization and the American War. Nowadays, the Filipinos are very visible and active for business.

In what industries are they mostly employed in here?

Executive leadership (Director, General Manager, etc.), construction, garments, teaching/education, advertising, and hospitality management.

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Is there a Vietnamese diaspora in the Philippines?

Ten years after 1975 there are some records that say there are few Vietnamese in the Philippines but many of them already left for other countries.

Why do you think Filipinos have adapted so well here?

Both Vietnam and the Philippines share many similarities: culture, geography, climate and the likes. Vietnam and the Philippines also share the same body of water (East-West Vietnam-Philippine Sea). One great reason I can say is that how the Vietnamese people welcomed the Filipinos here in Vietnam. The natural cheerfulness, sincerity and friendliness of the Vietnamese people made the Filipinos feel at home and love Vietnam more.

How many Vietnamese tourists visit the Philippines every year?

In 2013 about 5,000 Vietnamese tourists visited the Philippines; Manila, Makati and Palawan in particular.

For Filipinos visiting Vietnam, they are interested in seeing the historical places, but they enjoy the shopping more.

An excerpt in an article in Thanh Nien News about a plan to hire Filipino teachers to teach English at Vietnamese schools stirred some controversy with critics of the plan saying the city “should hire only native English speakers or improve local teachers instead.” And a principal of a primary school in HCMC said she was concerned by the plan because “English is not the mother tongue of Filipinos. The best way to learn a foreign language is to study with a native speaker… I am afraid that they will speak English like a Filipino rather than native English speakers.” Your thoughts on this?

We respect the idea that everybody is entitled to their own opinion. The Philippines has adapted English as the second language. Vietnam, a country that is starting to do the same, the Filipinos is still thankful that the majority of the locals are still recognizing their English communication skills as globally competitive.

Images by Ngoc Tran